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The Menu Review

November 18, 2022 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Menu Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures
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The Menu Review  

Directed By: Mark Mylod
Written By: Seth Reiss and Will Tracy
Runtime: 106 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated R for strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout, and some sexual references.

Ralph Fiennes – Chef Julian Slowik
Anya Taylor-Joy – Margot
Nicholas Hoult – Tyler
Hong Chau – Elsa
Janet McTeer – Lillian Bloom
Paul Adelstein – Ted
Judith Light – Anne
Reed Birney – Richard
Aimee Carrero – Felicity
John Leguizamo – Movie Star
Rob Yang – Bryce
Arturo Castro – Soren
Mark St. Cyr – Dave
Rebecca Koon – Linda Slowik

Following a September debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Menu hits theaters this week with a wide release. Mark Mylod, best known for his work on celebrated television shows such as Game of Thrones and Succession, directs a satirical, bourgeois version of torture porn that delivers a bark worse than its bite. The Menu has interesting aspects but fails to create a satisfying cinematic gourmet dish.

Riffing on the world of haute cuisine, many self-absorbed, rich foodies are carted off by boat to the opulent, exclusive island restaurant, Hawthorn. Hawthorn is located on an isolated island and is run by its austere culinary cuisinier, Chef Slowik (Fiennes). Among the group are a vain declining movie star (Leguizamo); his assistant Felicity (Carrero); some superficial corporate finance magnates; an elderly couple (Light and Birney); a snooty restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (McTeer) and her editor Ted (Adelstein); an obsessed culinary fanboy Tyler (Hoult); and his date Margot (Taylor-Joy).

Margot is the odd person out among this curious bunch, though she has an established familiarity with Richard right out of the gate. After being seated at Hawthorn, what first turns out to be a journey into culinary delights, soon becomes a living nightmare. As Slowik’s goals become clear, he’s prepared to pull out all the stops to deliver a memorable meal for his patrons.

Much like the meals Slowik is used to serving his guests, The Menu is flashy, with little actual cinematic nourishment. The movie has a lot of suspense and buildup, with very little in the way of a meaningful payoff. It teases thrills and suspense without ever delivering much of what it initially promises. There is a subplot built up throughout the movie involving Slowik’s chief of the house staff, Elsa (Chau), that appears to suggest some grand revelation that never truly comes to fruition.

Mark Mylod’s direction looks slick, and the film has some sharp cinematography by Peter Deming, but the dialogue and characterizations play in a very forced, inauthentic manner. The characters speak over each other and in an odd rhythm. It comes off as an attempt at realism with the banner and interactions, but instead, the convention feels forced. The attempt at punchy improvised dialogue makes the interactions annoying rather than amusing and intriguing.

The lone bright spots in the movie are Fiennes and Taylor-Joy. Fiennes is clearly having a good time playing a character who has snapped and completely lost it. Chief Slowik’s psychosis is elevated by Fiennes’ talents. His mannerisms and performance flesh out the characterization nicely and provide the film’s sole source of entertainment and laughs.

In a den of dense cobras, Margot seems to be the only person who at least has the wits to mount an escape from this pressing pinch. Well, she’s not the only likable person there. Carrero’s Felicity appears to be a variation of the long-suffering entertainment assistant. However, the reason for Felicity‚Äôs suffering is one area where the movie’s message starts to become murky and ridiculous.

Elsewhere, Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s script suffers from an identity crisis. It does not succeed as a social satire about class and wealth or a suspenseful thriller. It contains elements of those themes at play, but they never truly mesh. The terrifying buildup leads to some scenes that structurally serve little purpose. The final act leaves a bland aftertaste rather than a flavor bomb of umami.

As a cinematic experience, The Menu is akin to what Hawthorn passes off as grande cuisine and high-level gastronomy. It looks impressive but tastes dull.

4.0
The final score: review Poor
The 411
The Menu is a film that has a very high opinion of itself. While it has an interesting premise or setup, once the plot makes its grand reveal, the film starts spinning its wheels to an underwhelming finale. The film amounts to little more than a bourgeois version of cinematic torture porn, a subgenre that wore out its own welcome back in the late aughts. Ralph Fiennes' performance, where he plays around in the skin of someone who has snapped and channels their psychosis into culinary retribution, is the only memorable bright spot of The Menu.
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