Your destination is surrounded by salt water, dead trees consumed by it. There is a lone man on a boat harvesting scallops that will be used for your dinner. The smoker ages meat for 154 days – no more, no less. Sit, stay, experience. You’ve either dreamed your whole life of this experience or can merely afford to be here. Surrounding you are others of your status, though you believe that they do not deserve it. You are not allowed to touch a damn thing, but you can take it all in because you paid for this experience.
At least Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) did.
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) joins him, her new paramour, on a food adventure to eat the cuisine of Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), a sternly imposing chef that leads a near cult-like following of other cooks on the island of Hawthorne. Joining her are a washed-up actor (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), three douchy investment bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, & Mark St. Cyr), a man coded as a wealthy politician (Reed Birney) and his wife (Judith Light), and high profile food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) alongside her simpering assistant, Ted (Paul Adelstein). They will taste fat, salt, sugar, proteins, bacteria, fungi, various plants and animals, and at times entire ecosystems. They are told to savor, to relish, and not to merely eat.
Sounds like a last meal to me.
Mark Mylod has come a long way from Ali G in Da House, moving from slapstick to a darkly comedic satire that nakedly skewers its subjects with open disdain. The film is structured like a single-sitting episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table (which is mentioned in the film), displaying each as beyond caricature and reaching something we read about in news sources across the political spectrum on a daily basis. Even Nicholas Hoult’s foodie character serves as a stand-in for every type of art bro, from film geeks to readers of The Quietus, and they are served to us as an interesting but empty dish that’s meant to provoke instead of satisfy. The only standout is Margot, all by design (or as an unplanned addition to the menu), and she is the enticing piece of the puzzle that serves as a catalyst for the events to follow.
This bottle episode of a film is one technological reference away from being the most excellent episode of Black Mirror imaginable, serving as a social commentary and hilarious thriller all at the same time. It’s set pretty much in one location, utilizing the set to the fullest of its abilities, and Mylod teams up with cinematographer Peter Deming to bathe it in candlelight and bright kitchen LEDs to create an environment that feels threatening from moment one.
Learning more about these characters in a review would spoil the fun (and also the menu), derailing an experience that isn’t perfect but brushes right up against it in an orgy of food porn and wealth disparity that tastes as good as one could hope for. Audiences will get what they paid for, dish by dish, though not in the way they may expect. This is challenging, the exact journey that Chef Slowik intends for us to go on, and it builds to a climax that is as satisfying as a well- baked dessert.
The Menu falls just shy of perfection in its lack of characterization. The caricatures work their magic, but they left me desperate for more depth in the culinary team. Margot is the sole individual to have internalized life beyond the mere skin-deep level of everyone else and it is the only true detriment to Mylod’s otherwise stunning film. This won’t be an issue for most, instead serving as a feature rather than a bug, and I think it’s going to be remembered as one of the top films of this year.
The Menu is currently playing in theatres.