By Christopher James
The class war comedy subgenre is alive and well in 2022. More recently, movies like Body Body Body and triangle of sadness smeared the 1% with blood and feces, respectively. Director Mark Mylod (of Succession fame), goes for the former with his all-star comedy thriller, The menu. The movie effectively entertains, even if it doesn’t ultimately add much to the conversation.
We meet Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) at a dock about to be picked up for an elite dining experience. Right from the start, we see a disconnect between the two, as if they’ve been dating for a short time. Tyler is beyond thrilled with the dining experience, documenting every moment. On the other hand, Margot doesn’t care. Tyler and Margot travel alongside nine other illustrious guests to an island restaurant run by celebrity chef Slowick (Ralph Fiennes).
At first it looks like any other stuffy, overpriced tasting menu experience. However, Chef Slowick and his staff have a lot going for them. Once the violence and targeted personal attacks enter the closed dining room, guests have to admit that they might not make it out of this meal alive.
The trailers for The menu give away a good chunk of the twisted machinations of this exclusive gastronomic event. This does not necessarily lessen the impact. It’s hugely entertaining even when you know where Chef Slowick is taking the audience. That’s largely thanks to the spirit of Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s screenplay, where the zingers pile on top of each other like the multi-course meal on screen.
The menu is also a visual treat. The central dining set removes the barrier between kitchen staff and guests. There are several fun sight gags revolving around the central contradiction of maximizing ultra-chic minimalist design. The open space makes for a great battlefield where we can see all the players and take some fun reaction shots or player interactions. Credit goes to production designer Ethan Tobman (Bedroom) to create such a dynamic set.
It also helps that the set is evenly strong. Predictably, Ralph Fiennes relishes his psychotic starring role as the evil Chief Slowick. It mixes the gregarious splendor and the circumstances of Grand Hotel Budapest‘s Mr. Gustav with the menace and power of some of his villainous roles, like Amon Goth and Lord Voldemort. Above all, it has a lot of fun chewing up the landscape. Likewise, Nicholas Hoult brings charm and smarm as the selfish foodie, Tyler. While most guests fear for their lives as they figure out the theme of the meal, Tyler revels in every detail. Hoult sure knows how to make an ugly character fun to watch, just like he did on Hulu’s Great. Our audience surrogate is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, an unimpressed figure caught between the world of the wealthy and that of the restaurant owners. Even playing straight through a room full of arc characterizations, Margot leaps off the page thanks to Anya Taylor-Joy’s camera control.
The entire supporting cast makes every table in the restaurant a memorable one. The film’s MVP is Hong Chau as Elsa, the smiling, but dry, Master of. She appears in control at all times, giving some creepy, yet hilarious line reads. As Chief Slowick stands, Elsa snaps sharply. On the guest side, Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein provide the most laughs as food critic Lillian Bloom and her editor, Ted. A pedantic, out-of-touch critic’s joke might be a moan-worthy cliche, but McTeer and Adelstein deliver their lines for maximum effect. John Leguizamo is also great fun as a Sandler-esque comedian who worries he’s no longer relevant. A trio of tech bros, played by Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, and Rob Yang, similarly liven up the snap types. Only Reed Birney and Judith Light are underutilized, as a married couple with some fairly expected secrets.
The menu serves up a lot of the expected jokes and twists, but does it in a fun and engaging package. In fact, it’s delightfully reminiscent of the mid-budget thrillers that were so popular in the early 80s. It’s a high-concept parade of stars and perils, all wrapped up in a fun satire of high-class food culture. . It’s always nice to get what you ordered. For those looking for a fun comedy thriller, The menu corresponds to the invoice. B
The menu hits theaters Friday, November 18, distributed by Searchlight Pictures.