The Menu is a dark horror comedy directed by Mark Mylod, who has previously directed a lot for TV, including some very high-profile gigs like episodes of Game of Thrones, Shameless, and Succession. The screenplay itself was done by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and has been kicked around Hollywood for quite some time- in researching this film I discovered that it was part of a list of screenplays that were all considered very good but had not been picked up for a release. This one has finally got into production and it has a lot of promise to it. The trailer itself delivered a lot of interesting ideas, and I would say that it was an accurate depiction of the film. Critics have been instructed to not give away too much of the film, because it’s best to experience it with a minimal amount of knowledge, and I would agree with that decision.
The basic premise is that a young couple (Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy) travel along with several others including a trio of young corporates who work for a business owner, a food critic, a movie star, and an old couple. They travel to an island owned by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). While the island is shown to have excellent resources for ingredients, when the meal starts going ahead it becomes clear that there is a dark undertone to the entire meal.
If my description of the plot makes you think of a certain plot twist, then you’ll go in with the same idea I had- but it’s not exactly correct. That’s all I’m going to say.
The Menu is actually a decent film, all things considered, the script is there and it delivers some very funny moments. It’s certainly helped by the fact that Chef Slowik is a very believable character. It’s clear that the writers and producers watched a lot of cookery shows in preparation. Slowik feels like a cross between Gordon Ramsay and Marco-Pierre White- there’s even a very direct homage to Gordon Ramsay part way through.
The film is a very good dressing-down of the rich and powerful, and it also gets across some of the fakeness that’s behind much of gastronomy. This is coming from someone who is a massive champion of going out to really good restaurants! I’ve not really been to many fancy ones, but on the rare occasion that I’ve been lucky enough to do it, when things go very poncey it can feel uncomfortable. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character does a great job actually relaying that feel to the role, since for reasons explained in the film she has good reason to feel like she doesn’t belong amongst that group. While Ralph Fiennes gives an excellent performance (as well as Nicholas Hoult, who continues to surprise me with how well he can do an American accent), Anya Taylor-Joy is a bit of a show stealer! She’s quickly becoming one of my favourite actresses working at the moment, considering she seems to be in most of the films that I really enjoy. Even when she’s in films that I’m not completely enjoying, she tends to improve them with her presence. I’m excited to see how she does in the upcoming Super Mario Brothers movie where she’ll be playing Princess Peach..
Another high part of this film was John Leguizamo as a movie star, he’s clearly playing a parody of himself but he actually makes it work. I thought that the cast as a whole does a pretty good ensemble piece. It’s not one of those films where you think ‘if those characters were less dumb, things would turn out differently’. There is plenty of explanation as to why things don’t go according to plan for them.
While it is a scathing commentary on the rich and powerful, it doesn’t really have a lot to say about them. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table (pun not intended). Yeah, the rich and powerful suck and get that way through fakery or through criminal activity. I already knew that! But there’s not really much more that it tells about that subject matter. It does do a pretty good job at dressing down some of the cult-like status that celebrity chefs have often adorned themselves with either by design or by accident, and I could talk about more of the thematic elements but I would have to go into spoiler territory for that.
I did say that this is a dark horror comedy, and while there aren’t many parts of this that will scare you, there are plenty of parts that will make you laugh, which is unsurprising when you find out that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are producers for this film. You also will get a sense that the script has been reworked a couple of times, but how much of that is down to the producer or director is unknown. The only reason that I know that there has definitely been changes is because there is a reference to the COVID pandemic but this script has been around for some time before that.
It also helps that the film has been well researched. The items on the menu are actually scientifically accurate to good-tasting food, and people forget that cooking is essentially chemistry at the end of the day. While most of it is accurate, one of the dishes has an element to it where I’m not sure how possible it is to create.. Furthermore, I’m not sure how they managed half of that. Maybe don’t go into this film expecting too many explanations, it’s a little purposely vague.
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