The Menu – Film Review
by Brian Merriman
Directed By: Quinn Shephard
Written by: Seth Reiss Will Tracy
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, Hong Chau, Aimee Carrero, Paul Adelstein, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, Reed Birney, John Leguizamo and Mark St. Cyr
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
A good menu has something for everyone, something that appeals to many tastes, that perhaps you wouldn’t get anywhere else, but most of all, the offering should be memorable. The Menu, the movie has exactly that. It is dark, stylish, sinister, camp and memorable.
Hawthorn, an exclusive restaurant on a magnificent island within the US, is where the celebrated Chef, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), has prepared a lavish tasting menu for his carefully chosen special guests, each paying $1,250 per head. The strong presence of Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a last-minute date for gullible Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) who enhances his reputation for masterful light comedy in this film.
As you might expect in an Agatha Christie plot, they are joined by a diverse guest list who don’t know each other, but who may be connected? We meet three young ‘work and money’ driven techies, Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr), an older couple of regular diners, the wealthy Anne (Judith Light) and Richard (Reed Birney). There is a powerful restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her dependent editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). Finally, a waning middle-aged movie star (John Leguizamo) with his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero). They all contribute to an exceptional evening of culinary and sinister delight.
Hosted by an ensemble of front-of-house staff, who are a constant presence on screen, directed by the reclusive, authoritarian Chef and his front-of-house manager, a chilling Elsa (Hong Chau) who drives the discipline in this cult. The chef’s word is law…but we never really find out why.
Each episode is a course on the menu and the food looks amazing. But, as many a chef tells a story with their food, Slowick has a macabre and sinister backdrop for his teasing culinary presentation. The plot twists and turns in its elegant location. This Chef is the puppet master and his caseload of puppets do his bidding at every string pull. There is tension, insanity, memory and betrayal served up generously to each table.
It is a night of gradual revenge. Each step in the plot is set up in the kitchen and as the tension heightens, there is no waning in their appetites, despite the unfolding of the real intent of the host. There is a strong cast performance reminiscent of good old English movies. It is well cast and Fiennes’s ever-present close-up sneer and his refined enunciation, add to the mounting tensions throughout the evening.
The camp finale could easily prompt a Baz Luhrmann chorus to join in, but it is fabulous and explosive. There is quirkiness in the episodes of the main plot but the sub-themes, and the interaction of the characters at the tables (and in the kitchen) all embellish this plot like a really good sauce. You will enjoy ‘The Menu’ so much and still be quite hungry afterwards.