The best type of parodies are the ones so close to the bone they make you wince.
From its opening scenes, where a nattily dressed foodie named Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) chastises his companion Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) for smoking ahead of their exclusive island dining experience, Mark Mylod’s The Menu carves out its stereotypes with a sharpness that’s almost painful to watch — and then it gleefully chops them up into little pieces.
Splicing horror and comedy with skill and delight, the movie is a satire of class, privilege, and pretension that’s also at its core a supremely entertaining story.
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What’s The Menu about?
The film centres around the aforementioned exclusive dining experience, which sees Tyler and Margot joining 10 other guests (all of whom are extremely rich and equally awful to different degrees) to travel by boat to a private island. Waiting on that island is the enigmatic Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and his blank-faced, highly trained team, who operate more like an army unit than kitchen staff as they serve the guests a series of incredibly pretentious (and increasingly odd) courses.
As the evening progresses, and Tyler gets more and more into his element (“Chefs, they play with the raw material of life itself,” he exclaims at one point to a bored Margot), things get stranger and more sinister. Eventually, it becomes clear that the guests may be getting more than they bargained for when they parted with their $1250 per head.
Nothing ominous to see here.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
The satire is cringingly good.
If you’ve ever eaten at a posh restaurant or listened to someone talk passionately about food and inwardly cringed, brace yourself. Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have done a brutally good job at parodying the culture of fine dining and the type of conversation it can attract.
“We’ve reached the basecamp of Mt. Bullshit,” mutters Margot as she listens to the other guests waffle on about Chef Slowik and his food, and she’s quickly proven right. Each minimalist course served begins with a wordy monologue from the chef, prompting reverent silences among the guest (and quite literally tears from Tyler) as he waxes lyrical about the island and the deeper meaning of the food.
“It’s fiendish,” whispers food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer) when a plate of accompaniments is brought out without any bread; she describes another course, which is presented as a miniature vignette of the island itself, as “thalassic.” Elsewhere, the table of highly paid executive bros (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr) exchange irritating banter, and a washed-up movie star (John Leguizamo) tries his best to stay relevant by pivoting to gastronomy reality TV. All the stereotypes are ticked off, with just the right amount of exaggeration to make them both hilarious and cringingly believable.
The guests are, predictably, the absolute worst.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
The perfect blend of horror and comedy.
Although the opening act of the movie feels more like comedy, the horror isn’t far behind. The script’s shift from amusing to sinister creeps up on us. When one of the finance bros, Soren (Castro), demands bread for their breadless bread plate, Slowik’s devoted second-in-command Elsa (Hong Chau) refuses his request before leaning in close to his ear and whispering, “You’ll eat less than you desire and more than you deserve.” In a later course, custom-made laser-printed tortillas reveal unpleasant secrets about each of the diners, and we can feel the tone shifting. The blank stares and robotic responses of the kitchen staff begin to feel less like impressive training and more like cult behaviour. Then, just when the tension is at its thickest, all hell breaks loose.
So are there any negatives?
The Menu won’t be for everyone. It’s important to note that there are scenes of suicide which some will find triggering, and which some people on Twitter have complained weren’t adequately flagged (I watched the film on Disney+ and couldn’t find a content warning for suicide). There are also some characters that are less fleshed out than others. Anne (Judith Light), the partner of cheating businessman Richard (Reed Birney), for instance, is given frustratingly little to do, while Felicity (Aimee Carrero), the dining partner of the movie star, also feels a tad underdeveloped.
Still, despite The Menu‘s flaws, the script is so entertaining, and the story drags us so completely into its tense downward spiral that, like a good meal, there’s little time to dwell on much else.
If you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to somebody. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email [email protected]. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat at crisischat.org. Here is a list of international resources.