Directed by: Mark Mylod
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
Written by Michael Clawson
In “The Menu,” a darkly comic thriller directed by Mark Mylod, a night of ultra-fine dining turns into a nightmare for a group of privileged foodies. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Margo, who’s dragged by her overexcited date Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult, to the lavish, exclusive, and exorbitantly expensive restaurant Hawthorne. Located on an otherwise uninhabited island, Hawthorne, helmed by Ralph Fiennes’ legendary chef Julian Slowik, promises those who are wealthy enough to afford it a long night of gastronomic magnificence. On the night that Margo visits the restaurant, however, Slowik and his intensely regimented, cult-like kitchen staff serve what Slowik thinks his well-to-do guests really deserve.
Alongside Margo and Tyler for the hellishly eventful evening is a diverse group of fellow restaurant-goers. There are three young business bros who work for Hawthorne’s primary financial backer, a restaurant critic and her editor, an older couple who don’t seem too happily married, and an actor and his girlfriend/assistant. On Slowik’s side, his right-hand is a cool and collected waitress played by Hong Chau, who gives what is easily the film’s funniest performance (the way she condescendingly enunciates the word “tortillas” at one point is gold). It’s a collection of well-worn character types, but lively and engaging performances all around make up for a lack of originality in who the story involves.
Though it is intermittently pretty funny, what the movie can’t overcome is its shoddy writing. As a satire of class, food culture, and the soul-sucking effect of money and elitism on any form of creativity, “The Menu” is badly muddled. As Slowik ritualistically terrorizes his guests throughout their meal courses (title cards divide the movie into the sections on a menu), his motivations for punishing each and every one of them fail to represent any kind of coherent point of view. That’s especially disappointing since Fiennes is so good as the deadly serious chef – his coldly maniacal performance feels wasted. The movie’s best moments come when it isn’t even trying to be satirical, like when Slowik admits that he only wants to punish the actor (John Leguizamo) for performing in a movie that Slowik thought was dreadful. Also great: Chau’s line reading when one of the young businessmen arrogantly demands his table be served bread, and she whispers in his ear, “You will be served less than you desire, and more than you deserve.”
“The Menu” Trailer