Is “The Menu” (2022) Worth Watching?


The menu as a film is as conceptual and simple as a chef’s special tasting. When we enter a restaurant, we kind of know what flavors to expect based on the description of a dish. The execution of flavor and what sets each dish apart comes from the magic of the kitchen. You have to commend the writers (Seth Reiss and Will Tracy) and the director (Mark Mylod) for having the guts to make a project as typically predictable as this one. The audience that walks in has limited ways to mentally anticipate the plot in a cooking movie, and keeping the material fresh is as challenging as a great chef making a simple dish taste new.

In many ways, this film presents us with predictable basic ingredients. The cast includes a mischievous trio of wall street bros, a pair of insufferable food snobs, an estranged married couple, an aging Hollywood actor with his lover/assistant, and a couple on a first date; one of them is a lover of fine cuisine.

You could quite easily hook up and play the same cast in any standard horror movie. What made this a better base mix was the quality of the ingredients mentioned. While no one stood out in an Oscar race, there were no bad performances. Everyone played their part well.

The opening segment takes this group to a remote island where an exclusive restaurant and a Hermitian chef are waiting to provide them all with an exclusive dining experience. The previews and opening lineup elude a “Willy Wonka” meets The “Most Dangerous Game” continuous line.

Right from the jump, the movie made its roux and raised expectations. The problem with this setup is that it’s done ad nauseam. Immediately the mind jumps to an inevitable manhunt, booby traps, hostage taking and cannibalism. Quite refreshing, The menu kept its poise and presented us with a fun and strikingly made-up release.

The film’s guts are punctuated by courses taught to the restaurant’s special customers and playfully spelled out in an on-screen menu font and restaurant logo, complete with listed ingredients. With each dish, the plot becomes more intriguing with bits revealed not only about the guests, but the chef himself. It slowly simmers to a dark “12 Angry Men” atmosphere as people in cramped crowded spaces are forced to reveal their pasts.

The antagonist and chef (Chef Slowik) is played by the always engaging Ralph Fiennes. His intensity in the role plays well as someone tasked with running a kitchen of artist experts, while also cleverly revealing secrets as the film progresses. As Ralph does, he delivers his dialogue somewhere between comedic and gruesome, which perfectly captures the tone of the film. In essence, he is the butter of the dish. He’s the guilty secret that makes everything taste good.

There are no classic leads in the movie, but Anya Taylor-Joy comes closest. She wears the same amount of screen time as Fiennes and delivers the same performance as in any of her small or big screen endeavors. She is the salt of the dish. We know what salt does, it’s always available and too much can spoil a dish. In this case, the makers simply stopped using too much spice. While Taylor-Joy is fine, she’s outdone here by patrons Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, and employee Hong Chau who each steal the limited scenes they’re in. enough talent that you’ll wish you had more than a serving of amuse-bouche.

The film’s pacing is perfect as we move effortlessly from one course to the next without feeling the grind of the foreseeably obvious unfolding customer stories. The intertwining of self revelation with the gastronomy and ever-changing stories of the chef makes one forget that almost the entire film takes place in one room. It is impressive and difficult to reach. Likewise, the film’s score is deceptively simple. It is string-heavy and unique in its instrumentation, while also being sparse. It makes its use dramatic and builds up in the little bits revealed by the chef in each course.

The big reveal in act three was not as expected, making this a fun twist on an old dish. Even if it’s just the equivalent of a sprig of parsley, it’s enough to enliven the palate and make it memorable for a while.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The late Anthony Bourdain often said, “Good food is very often, even most of the time, simple food”. Like a seasoned chef, The menu embraces this concept and that makes it a nice watch. Of all the wild and dark places the ghost takes you when you initially see these guys getting off the ferry to the remote island, it doesn’t take you to the realm of a burnt out chef making one last meal for a room full of assholes. There are no people eating people, there is no violent blood and man as prey, it is real and beautiful food served to those who represent the mental decline of the chief. The twist is that there is no major twist. The chef in his final has lost his passion and decided to become the art of the evening together with his customers and kitchen. In that concept we understand the vision of great chefs, creating temporary flavors that are ephemeral and beautiful in the moment.

There are some bitter bites in the dish. The film failed to explain (or even attempt to) the devotion of Chef’s staff and willingness to all perish with him. Even in the end, some of the doomed diners seemingly agree with the chef’s madness and embrace his cult mentality for their demise, without reason or progression. There was also a definite lack of food porn in this movie. For something that spoofed the high-end culinary experience, we should have been treated to a little more of the science and beauty of that creation rather than the gilded finale as presented.

There was also nothing remarkable about the direction or cinematography of this film and there was no coherence in the material to force it into horror. It teeters closer to a thriller, as it was just hesitant to go darker and lean into the brutal concept that it is. In the end, the film is nice but not extraordinary.

The menu is a fine movie to get your movie dollars out of and fun indeed, but you’ll probably forget about it in a year until you see it on standard cable or someone mentions S’mores. If it were a real restaurant it would be rated B. That said, I’ve had many a great meal at a B restaurant and not had any food poisoning.



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