FILM REVIEW: The Menu – The Great Anarchist’s Bake off
Picture this; your partner has invited you on a date to an exclusive island restaurant off the coast of America. There’s a whole lot of finance bros dining in, a tyrannical head chef, no menu changes for dietary requirements and no cell phone service. As a person with anaphylaxis, I could tell from the start Mark Mylod’s The Menu was going to be a risky dining experience.
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) are on a trip to said restaurant, the Hawthorn dining experience. The head chef (Ralph Fiennes) is renowned for opening both customers’ mouths and minds to new experiences. Tyler assures Margot she is in for a treat if that’s what you call the chaos not even Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential could prepare you for.
From the start, it is clear Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot is a tourist in this world of upper-class dining. Taylor-Joy delivers witty one-liners with ease and embodies the feeling of being out of place. She just wants a filling meal, something nice and stripped back from all the panache set up to impress critics and customers alike. When her date tells her that smoking will kill her palate, she retorts “at least my palate will die happy”.
Hoult on the other hand is the perfect food snob, a man that would crawl across broken glass to kiss the ground Marco Pierre White walks. Every meal is a photo opportunity, and every mouthful is another step towards nirvana. While he may not cook himself, he could undeniably list the reasons a Vitamix is superior to a Nutribullet.
It’s surprising we haven’t seen more kitchen-based horror movies. The meat cleaver may be a staple of the genre but there’s so much more there to mine. A kitchen is not just an environment full of blades, fire, oil and chunks of meat but it’s also a pressure cooker for its employees. Early into the film, the maitre d’ (Hong Chau) tells the diners how the cooks all live together in one room, wake up early and go to bed late. There are no breaks. There is only work. They are overworked, suffering under the weight of reachable expectations or dodging unwanted sexual advances from their superiors. Many of the side elements of The Menu could be expanded into films in their own right. It’s no wonder it’s not just the customers on edge.
Fiennes is the perfect head chef for such an environment; he admits his sins without a blink of an eye, could grant himself a smile while crushing a sous chef’s dreams or happily end his own prosperous career in one night. The chef commits so little violence himself, yet is the conductor of a murderous orchestra. He certainly wouldn’t stop anyone from putting their body on the line for his workplace.
With a tight 1h 47m, The Menu tries to accomplish a lot. It hurridly introduces it’s cast of characters, to the point I felt like it established itself on very poor footing. It rapidly cuts between tables, hoping the stereotypes are enough to give you an insight into who they are as people. The pacing at times feels more like a TV show where you already would have known the cast of characters than a movie. There were points I was wishing certain characters would just repeat Syndrome’s line from the Incredibles “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” and get on with the story.
While the gore certainly is there, outside the ending it’s not something I’m thinking about days later. Violence is used very much as a punctuation mark throughout. An unnerving dynamic is presented between two characters, or a creepy monologue is delivered before a brief burst of gore is unleashed. It’s no Terrifier 2 but the ending of this film has one of the most creative culinary death scenes of all time. The Menu undeniably has food in its heart up until the end.
The satire itself is not so subtle. All the violence has a point you see, it’s retribution for not appreciating the restaurant, having sold out on your craft, over-intellectualising art or making a living by critiquing others. These things are so bluntly laid out, that you probably could have gone to the toilet for half The Menu’s runtime and still not missed them. It’s also not hard to draw the parallels to filmmaking itself; a studio with dubious cash flows finances a film, like an investor in a restaurant, a critic directs customers where to go, film bros worship the craft and cashed up audiences mindlessly proceed from one piece of entertainment to the next. I get it, yet I think it’s insistence upon its own satire gets in the way of delivering the story.
The Menu pleads that sometimes people just want to enjoy a cheeseburger; something that is simple, filling and enjoyable. While I don’t think it is the perfect cheeseburger itself, it’s definitely worth biting into.
The Menu is in Cinemas November 24