'The Menu' Serves Up a Wickedly Delicious Comedy
Director Mark Mylod delivers a dark but juicy comedy featuring excellent performances from Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes and the entire cast.
The new dark comedy ‘The Menu,’ which was directed by Mark Mylod (‘What’s Your Number?’), opens in theaters on November 18th. Produced by Adam McKay (‘Vice’) and Will Ferrell (‘Spirited’), the film takes an exaggerated look at celebrity chefs and “Foodie culture” and in doing so, serves up one of the best movies of the year!
The story follows Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a young couple that travels to a private island to experience celebrity chef Julian Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) acclaimed restaurant, Hawthorne. The restaurant specializes in molecular gastronomy, with everything grown on the island, and treating the food more like conceptual art.
Other guests at the dinner include food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein), a wealthy couple (Reed Birney and Judith Light), a movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Amiee Carrero), and three “Wall Street-type” investors (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, and Rob Yang). But the dinner soon takes a terrible turn when the guests realize that they were all invited for a nefarious reason, and that Chef Slowik plans to take make an example out of all of them.
While not a mystery per se, ‘The Menu’ reminded me a lot of ‘Knives Out,’ which is ironic since that sequel is being released next month on Netflix. But instead of being a “Whodunit” it’s more of a “how will it be done” type of story since we know from the beginning that something is not right about this island restaurant and Chef Slowik’s intentions. The tone of the film is dark, but it is also quite funny, with the humor coming out of the awkwardness of the social situation the characters are in.
The film also has a lot to say about class, wealth, and the social media enhanced celebrity worshiping world we all find ourselves now living in. While the lead characters have names, you will notice many of the other characters are only known by their titles like Leguizamo’s “Movie Star” character. I would imagine this was done on purpose by the writers to establish the idea that what they represent is more important than who they really are.
Originally set to be directed by Alexander Payne (‘Sideways’), Mark Mylod ended up making the film and it’s by far the best of his career, making him a director that I would keep my eye on. He balances the different tones of the film masterfully, and moves the camera around the restaurant and kitchen with ease, as if we were actually there, adding to the mystic of the film. The set design is also impressive, with a fantastic modern tone and colors popping off the well shot and gorgeous looking food.
However, it’s the characters and performances that really make the movie worth watching. The supporting cast is excellent, even in their somewhat limited roles. John Leguizamo perfectly captures the insecurities of a falling movie star, while Aimee Carrero pulls a lot of sympathy as his assistant, Felicity. Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr and Rob Yang also portray their “Wall Street Bros” characters well and add to the drama of the film. Veteran actress Judith Light (‘Who’s the Boss?’) also shines as a wealthy wife just realizing that her husband is a cheat.
But of the dinner guests, Janet McTeer is absolutely unforgettable as food critic Lilian Bloom, and deserves Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actress. McTeer brings just the right mix of upper-class snootiness and superiority to the role. Veteran actor Paul Adelstein (‘Prison Break’) is very funny as Bloom’s editor and yes-man, Ted. Actress Hong Chau from ‘Downsizing’ also gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Slowik’s bossy assistant Elsa, who will do anything to please the Chef.
Nicholas Hoult’s role as Tyler is the weakest spot for me, but I don’t think it was the actor’s fault. The character is not as well written as the others and struggles at times to stay as interesting as the other characters in the scene. But ultimately the character is revealed to be not as nice as he seems, and the actor does his best to layer that throughout his performance.
In the end, it’s Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes performances that make the film work, and the exploration of their characters’ interesting relationship. Taylor-Joy gives one of her best performances to date as the over-her-head Margot, who’s only chance at survival is to show the Chef her authentic self.
Fiennes is absolutely commanding in the role and carries the movie’s dark comedic tones and pacing with ease. While his actions could easily be labeled “crazy,” the actor is almost able to convince the audience that the Chef is in the right, which is quite impressive given his motivation and actions. Fiennes also has great chemistry with Taylor-Joy, and the connection between the two characters really resonates.
Without giving anything away, I did have an issue with how the film ended up treating a few characters that I felt didn’t completely deserve their outcome, namely Light and Carrero’s characters, who seemed more like ignorant accomplices than the actual “terrible” people Slowik wants to punish. Yet it seems like that was the point, that someone can be held responsible for someone else’s actions just by being complicit themselves.
In the end, ‘The Menu’ is a fun and fascinating movie that explores class, wealth, and the strange social media and celebrity driven society that we all live in. With stunning directorial work from Mylod, and excellent performances from Fiennes, Taylor-Joy, and the supporting cast, ‘The Menu’ should have a good shot at several nominations this coming awards season.
‘The Menu’ receives 4.5 out of 5 stars.