The menu (2022)
Director: Mark Mylod
Writers: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang, Janet McTeer
Somewhere between a hellish Ratatouille and a comedy horror a la Ready or Not, The menu it’s a potluck of familiar dishes. While it serves up sharp humor on a platter, this 2022 Mark Mylod film lacks a chunk of staying power to soothe our palettes.
The menu takes place over the course of a single evening when a group of ravenous bigwigs – and our lowly protagonist Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – arrive on a private island to indulge in a ten-course feast. Prepared by legendary chef Slowik, the meal promises to be as succulent as it is cerebral. Each course becomes increasingly unbalanced as Slowik reveals the true nature of the menu and the guests
The first act is a plate of expertly crafted appetizers. Sprinkled with just enough exposure to get a sense of the ludicrous guest list — from a pompous A-list actor (John Leguizamo) to a bunch of finance buggers (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang) to critic arrogant Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) – the evening promises to be a show of extreme wealth. Each of the guests is as mysteriously conniving as they are self-indulgent.
Ralph Fiennes’ performance is delightfully unpredictable. Chef Slowik’s unique rumbling applause cuts through tension like a freshly sharpened kitchen knife. He bounces from the unabashed curator of the evening to a workaholic who quickly unravels in seconds. It’s impossible to tell whether Slowick’s next words will be a series of abuses (towards staff and customers alike) or an account of his deeply troubled childhood.
Of course, food underscores this emotional hell. The first course looks almost inedible. Presented on a rock on the nearby shore, guests are served a meal consisting of flowers, sea water and a single scallop. This dish might be a treat for the eyes of a food aficionado, but for the less cultured public, we crave a modicum of real sustenance. Margot’s social media-obsessed foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) describes the chef’s art of “dealing with the real stuff of life…and death,” while Chef Slowik informs guests they’ll be consuming “whole biomes” during their dinner. Meals indicate a coolness that accompanies extreme wealth. Deprived of the simple things we love about food, guests revel in their intellectual superiority rather than the taste itself.
Unfortunately, after the first act, The menu It falls apart. While the first 30 minutes are filled with tense, socially charged comedy, the rest of the film hinges on Margot’s journey. Anya Taylor-Joy is a Hollywood dynamo, but in this film she is woefully out of place. After her undesirable background is revealed, Slowik wonders if the woman is meant to be a “shit shoveller” instead of a houseguest. Anyone with a working knowledge of pop culture or cinema will consider Anya Taylor-Joy a wealthy rising star. Her perfectly coiffed hair and self-confident demeanor communicate her old money more than the dowdy, hard-working girl the film hopes to portray. No amount of leather jackets or snappy comments are able to distract from Taylor-Joy’s real state.
Margot works as the undisputed hero. Aside from her tendency to badmouth (and, honestly, who could blame her? her) she’s presented as a confident and flawless character. She’s almost too easy. The rich are caricatures, the most evil wealth-grabbers of all time, while Margot is the innocent outcast. For a film about consumer culture, she seems almost too consumable.
The menu it is an effective comedy and a fragile capitalist critique. After the success of the Oscar award Parasite, Hollywood has been eager to reproduce a self-aware and biting satire of the state of the world. Like the media Triangle of sadness and “The White Lotus” underscore the hypocrisy of capitalism by using comedy as a vehicle. With such an ironically saturated market for anti-capitalist films, it is essential that works of satire are extraordinarily poignant. “Succession” writer Will Tracy uses The menu a rightly assesses the danger of mindless consumption, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen in the last five years.
There’s a lot to explore in our “post” COVID capitalist society, but these critiques require a level of nuance that many feature films fail to achieve. The unfortunate reality of capitalism is that there are no pure villains or victims. In a deeply unjust system, we are all relegated to a morally gray in-between space that affects our ability to operate with compassion. While it’s easy to wish for a righteous protagonist to absolve us of our guilt, it’s essential to marinate in the liminal space between good and evil.
The menu it’s a gory, dark look at capitalism that we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again on screen. While his cutting voice and stellar cast make the film easy to watch for a film lover, it falls short of a truly dynamic critique of the world we live in.
Written by Emi Grant
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