The Menu movie cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anna Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Judith Light
The Menu movie director: Mark Mylod
The Menu movie rating: 2.5 stars
For a film that whips up such a delicious satire on wealth and the snobbish exclusivity of food fascism, The Menu is ultimately an overcooked dish – too busy plating itself, like the stentorian chef it is both trying to mock as well as celebrate.
The conceit is, to begin with, over-the-top, but that is what has you salivating at the start. Twelve guests are coming over to an isolated island for an exclusive dinner lasting 4 hours plus, served personally by the famously reclusive Chef Slowik (Fiennes). The $1250 per head bill is enough to sieve out the gentry, but as the 12 guests soon realise, Slowik and his team have done close research of the kind on them that never does amount to anything good.
The fact that they are now enclosed together in a stone building, behind large wooden doors, guarded by a security detail, and watched by Slowik’s eagle-eyed aide Elsa, on an island, is the kind of setting that many mysteries are made of.
But little binds these 12 together, like in other mysteries — as much as that they have money, and in case of food critic Bloom (the marvellous McTreer) a lot of words amounting to a lot of nothing, to spare. It is revealed, gradually but with no surprise, that like all things which start out as passion and art and descend into celebrity and commercialism, Slowik too has come to hate his clients.
We could even grant The Menu this — though the so-called dirty dozen, plus Slowik’s old mother who sits glumly drinking in a corner, certainly seem much more fun than the diabolical avenger the chef is turning out to be.
The problem is that while the filmmakers clearly want us to appreciate the effort that has gone into both the food that Slowik rolls out, and the methodical history that he narrates for each of it, it also wants us to hate the guests for wanting a bite of “the experience”.
The only one with the guts to point out that the Emperor has no clothes – as the Chef with the capital c contemptuously serves them drops of fluid for a “breadless” bread course – is the woman Slowik’s team has no idea about. Margot (Taylor-Joy) is out of place, no-nonsense, and vocal about it, not hiding her ridicule at descriptions such as the island being “a biome of culinary senses”. Slowik is irritated but also fascinated by Margot’s defiance, sparing her even transgressions such as “not liking the food” – though the reason why she gets away with this when others don’t is as low-hanging a fruit as it gets.
That is not to say The Menu is not a feast at many levels. Particularly if you are a fan of little dabs of artificially created snow served on rocks, with shoots of plants around for “experience”, if Fiennes is your idea of pleasant company, and if you are not exactly looking for food for the stomach.
But The Menu is not exactly food for thought either.