The Menu (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of rich dickheads attend a specialist menu arranged by celebrity chef Julian Slowick (Ralph Fiennes). They’re disturbed when the dining experience is less Amuse-Bouche and more Abuse Douche.

I knew what was going to happen in this, I knew what was going to happen to almost all the characters throughout. It seemed to spend a lot of time catching up with its own trailer, and I always hate when that happens. It was also slow, filled with unlikeable characters, and unbearably smug.

So why did I like it so much? Everything indicates I should dislike this. But it was so well done. It’s a film that lingers with you long after you watch it. Not just in a slightly “that was horrific” way, but also in a way that you come out with a genuine appreciation of cinema. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but it’s easy to see the parallel between film-making and a chef; both creating art which is supposed to be for everybody, but there is still a general notion that the more people like it, the worse it is, and the only proper form of it is if it’s incomprehensible.

I like food (as anybody who has seen my stomach can testify), but I dislike food culture. I think food should be eaten and enjoyed, so I dislike it when it’s overly pretentious and fancy, more focused on atmosphere than taste (like the kind of restaurants that serve foam on a shoe). This film seems to have the same disdain for it, lampooning how ridiculous the whole thing is. The satire is not subtle but is brutal. Whereas some targets seem a little unfair, once you think it through it makes sense. The couple whose only crime is not remembering what they ate last time? Seems petty at first, but think of it like this: the chef has put his all into creating memorable food, the kind people will remember for the rest of their lives, and then you have two people who see it as standard, not treating it with any sense of importance. Related; a performer who made something bad for money. Yes, petty, but the chef sees it as someone who doesn’t take pride in their work, that’s a personal insult to him. Yes, some of the other targets feel easy, but they’re targets who won’t realise they’re idiots until they see this film, it’s the lack of self-awareness of the characters that make the whole thing work.

It looks fantastic, most of it takes place in a singular room so there’s not really that much you can do in terms of creative visuals for sets. There are a few island shots which show the beauty of the location, but it is mostly a film made of space, creating a sense of weird emptiness to the whole thing. It works though, the fact that the room is so wasteful and sterile, yet it’s a place that these people pay thousands to eat at, says a lot about who these characters are, and really helps set the mood. If everything else, the story, the cast, etc was the same, but it was set in a diner or a cosy village pub, it would change the mood completely. The food? It looks impressive but not like something you’ll want to eat (with the exception of that burger). It’s food for visuals rather than purpose, which is kind of the point.

The performances are all pretty much perfect. Ralph Fiennes would make a great horror movie villain, he’s unsettling and terrifying to watch, but captivating. You can’t turn away from him, even when he’s in the background your focus is on him, just because of how good he is to watch. Nicholas Hoult is fantastically hateable, although he didn’t need to be American. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to be among the best part of any film she’s in. I think this may be my favourite performance of hers, it’s the first one where her character is the beacon of normality. She’s the audience surrogate in this, and her caustic barbs are a great tone leveller. Her pitch-perfect delivery of pointing out to people how the food they’re being served is actively mocking them makes that line work. I don’t know much about Christina Brucato but her small moments in this made me want to see more of her (although there was a small part of me that thought she was Gillian Horvat at first, which may be why I was paying so much attention to her).

So in summary, this isn’t a film that’s for everybody, but it was certainly for me. I don’t think people will think of it as “just okay”, there will be some people who love it, and some who hate it. There will also be those who miss the point entirely and think of it as a film that’s against the upper class. It’s not, it’s against people who lack passion and pride. If you think that’s an attack on the upper class, that says a lot about what you think of the upper class.

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