Everybody think they’re a critic. When it comes to cuisine, everyone think they’re a food critic. Or a foodie. Call it the Bourdainitization, or the Guy Fieritization of the culture, but do you hear how everybody talks the same way about food now? It’s annoyingly pretentious, made worse by the obscure, miniscule delicacies of haute cusine. Food is no longer something to be savored and enjoyed. It is instead a thought exercise, a performance, a piece of art. Dude, just give me something I can shove into my face. At least on Hell’s Kitchen Gordon Ramsey serves up his culinary delights with a slab of beef wellington.
The Menu serves up heaping dish of dark comedy that slices up the elite class and bullshit wannabe foodies like so much pork tenderloin. Directed by Succession helmer Mark Mylod from a script by The Onion vets Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, the film is most notably recognizable as an Adam McKay joint. While he’s only here as a producer, his gift for finding the funny in class warfare is everywhere here, just as his penchant for painting everyone with the broadest of brushes.
Fortunately, painting with a broad brush is perfectly fine for this vaguely horror-ish premise in which a small group of upper-class patrons are whisked away to a remote island where they will dine on the rare delicacies of Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). While yuppie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is enamored with Slowik and the performative nature of this elaborate setup, his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) is so disinterested she puffs on a cigarette before. It earns her a hearty rebuke from Tyler who is worried she’ll kill her taste buds before the scrumptious morsels they’re about to feast on.
Of the 12 people seated at Slowik’s Hawthorne establishment, exactly none of them is what one would call a “regular joe”. There’s John Leguizamo’s big shot Hollywood actor, a trio of douchey business bros there for the status, a top food critic who helped Slowik get his start, and more. Meanwhile, Slowik runs his ship like a fantatical cult leader. His brigade stomps around with military efficiency, bending low to craft each plate with the delicate detail of artists. Because, after all, that is what this is all about. It’s not food. It’s art. Slowik indulges in lavish stories that lend depth and meaning to every squirt of foam, every tidbit of protein, every herb. One course is introduced with a story about the longevity of peasant bread, only for Slowik to serve his diners a breadless dish of accoutrements because they are anything but common peasants.
So it’s clear the disdain we’re meant to have for these people, and while it’s all razor thin critique it is nonetheless quite fun to watch them get their comeuppance. The scenario isn’t that much different than your average Saw movie. They are all there thinking they’re in for the meal of their lives, and that’s exactly what they get. However, Slowik has an agenda, a deadly one. And whaddaya know, some of these characters have a connection to one another!
Slowik is the evil Jigsaw of this dangerous supper club. The disgust that he has for these food photographing Instagramers, these negative Yelp review-giving cretins, oozes out of every word like cheese from a squished Juicy Lucy. Fiennes’ performance is delectible, a little bit Voldemort, a little bit M. Gustave from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Hoult is the model of the kind of arrogant foodie prick we all want to see choke on his amuse-bouche. Taylor-Joy, replacing the previously cast Emma Stone, is better suited to playing the mysterious, salt-of-the-earth Margot who has no time for this boujee nonsense.
Each course offers up something new to chew on. Most ratchet up the tension, although it gets pretty obvious where Slowik’s machinations are leading. Other courses send the pitch black mood too far into comedy, boiling down the stakes so far that they must be built back up again. But the cutting barbs aimed at the smug and delusional more often than not find their mark, even if they leave the film looking just as snobbish as the folks it’s targeting. Like any multi-course meal, some dishes will satisfy more than others. The Menu offers up a choice selection of social critique and biting humor, so be sure to come hungry.
The Menu opens in theaters on November 18th.