A viral review posted in late 2021 of a Michelin starred restaurant in Italy caught the public imagination due to the outlandish approach to ‘food’ served (read it here; it’s hilarious). Where there is incredulity, there is a film, and thus The Menu, starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, serves up one highly cultivated mouthful.
What Is The Menu About?
“This is theatre!” rationalises one character in the face of the increasingly strange dishes placed before our cast. Food as performance, both in television and in fine dining, is boiling away within The Menu.
Long, loving, rotating shots linger over each course as it is served and coupled with an on-screen graphic that announces the dishes’ name and ingredients.
Before Chef Slowik (Fiennes) orates his increasingly intense speeches to present each dish, both the attention of his erstwhile customers and ourselves as the audience are demanded with a single, loud clap.
The Menu serves up bite after bite to tantalise in tense filmmaking. The diners have placed before them dishes that, shall we say, challenge them in unexpected ways; as the waiting staff calmly point out, it is not just the ingredients that have been heavily researched.
That is, except for Margot (Taylor-Joy, The Queen's Gambit) who was a last minute plus-one replacement for obnoxious foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult).
That Margot is not automatically in awe of Chef Slowik is the movie’s unexpected hair nestled in between morsels and drives much of the fun; she punctures the bubbled babbling that carouses around her from the other clientele. “You’re allowed to ask for bread!” she chides, pugnaciously, unaware that Chef Slowik’s displeasure is about to descend upon her.
The Menu Official Trailer
Is The Menu Worth Watching?
Even though The Menu’s elements are as tightly refined as its subject matter, one can’t help but feel the need to skip the starters.
The gathered diners each have a quickly identifiable personality type. Although their reactions to the presentation of their menu are what drives up the tension, in of themselves, they make for a not particularly interesting bunch of people: fodder, not flavour.
The collective palate cleansers aside, Taylor-Joy and Fiennes’ battle of wills makes for endlessly compelling viewing. Despite being at a clear disadvantage, her position as an unknown element entertainingly irks Slowik and as their positions of power shift back and forth the script delights in puncturing pomposity (and adding layers of threat).
Toss in Hoult’s obsequious deference to Slowik and condescension to Margo and the result is a satisfying crunch on camera.
Much like the menu that is presented in the movie, The Menu is a masterfully put together experience. Its carving of passion into obsession could be thematically extrapolated into the art of filmmaking itself; when you must have every element under your control, can you keep hold of the love that makes something shine?
As dessert is wheeled out to the delight of no one, one can’t help but feel filled up by The Menu. It takes you on a carefully curated journey where at the end you are left satisfied with what was presented. Pass the American cheese, would you?
Words by Mike Record