the menu film review
The Menu is a thriller starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult set in the world of top-end fine dining. You don’t see many film review on this blog but I thought this was worth doing!
The Menu unfolds like a tense play, taking place almost entirely within the dining room of an extremely exclusive restaurant. It is bound to a remote island where of course there is no phone signal (phones have to be taken out of all modern TV and movies!). Anya Taylor-Joy plays Margot, an unimpressed ‘normal’ dragged along this Michelin-inspired ride by Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler. I confess to being ‘seen’ as the cool kids say by this know-it-all foodie character desperate to impress the chefs with his knowledge of techniques and ingredients. All too close for comfort! He does however play the pretentious sycophant exactly right, and we never quite cheer for him.
Presiding over all is Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik. Aloof and mercurial, he commands his brigade with fascistic control and demands attention for his food from the diners. With his trademark cold edge you never quite know where Fiennes is going to take the character next. From meek mummy’s boy to deranged stalker there’s more than a little Norman Bates in this chef.
I derived a lot of pleasure from the title cards describing each dish. They are scathingly accurate for the modern style of describing and naming dishes, poring over them cinematically, almost reverently, in the style of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Renowned French chef Dominique Crenn was food consultant and with three Michelin stars herself knows exactly what game is being played here.
Despite wry observation and tense scenes it doesn’t quite all pay off. It appears to head for one direction and doesn’t quite land it. Fiennes’s obsessive chef appears to have vendettas with the guests but at varying levels of ferocity and subjectivity that don’t always satisfy. This is reportedly a script that found itself on the black list for years, purgatory for decent ideas waiting to be snatched up, and it shows. It likely got battered into different shapes during years in the wilderness seeking a home and the end result is little unfocused. Good performances all round though.
A cynical blend of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Clue, The Menu will tickle anyone with a dark sense of humour, and amuse the bouche of anyone used to high-end restaurant pretentiousness.