Michelin stars are basically prison teardrop tattoos for chefs, right? It’s murder to get them, and once you have them, everybody looks at you very differently. FX’s “The Bear” certainly made everybody look at “the culinary arts” a bit differently this summer. At the very least, it prompted a lot of folks to hornily run around yelling “Yes, Chef!” No worries: “The Menu” is here to re-grossify that obedient response, asking the wholly insignificant but insanely valid question “What if customers and pretentious chefs are both big-time A-holes?”
On a small island, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) prepares elaborate meals for ultra-rich D-bags he has come to loathe. He divides the world into “givers” and “takers.” Like so many, he decides he belongs to the former class without realizing you can’t assign yourself that label; he’s really the latter. To be fair, it’s only mostly his fault, as his brain is broken by years of service industry abuse and the God-like praise heaped upon chefs who make Instagram-worthy portions for tiny birds.
On the soon-to-be-infamous night in question, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) brings his last-minute date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), to the pricey foodie experience. They are joined by various groups: a trio of hedge fund wangs, a washed-up movie star (John Leguizamo) and his very personal assistant, a pervy old dude (Reed Birney) and his oblivious wife (Judith Light), and a savage food critic (Lillian) and her enabler (Paul Adelstein). The lineup is less “Chow time at the Hague” and more “unpleasant political fundraiser.” As hostess-with-the-mostess, Elsa (Hong Chau), quickly reveals: Far more than fancy food is about to be served.
“The Menu” is like a dumber, drunken “Midsommar.” Instead of thoughtful, methodical insights into trauma and romantic vs communal love it basically stumbles and slurs its words, yelling, “No, you know what? You’re all dicks!” It’s not wrong… It’s also pretty fun to let someone go on sloppy rants about obvious injustices sometimes. Writers Will Tracy and Seth Reiss and director Mark Mylod provide 0% new insights and 100% agreed upon truisms. Rich people are bad. Selfish people do suck. Finance bros can and will go directly to hell. It’s thematic comfort food.
Taylor-Joy does what most films ask of her, shifting between surprised and coy. Hoult cuts a delightful caricature of toxic male entitlement. Fiennes is expectedly transcendent as a lunatic who makes some really damn fine points. It’s never outright dangerous or thrilling but also never boring. It’s overly simplistic, but so is a delicious cheeseburger. It’s not thought-provoking so much as it is thought-provoking-adjacent. It’s like having someone tell you every detail from a good podcast.
The film doesn’t really get into it, but our obsession with food is more a symptom of our intellectual and emotional insatiability. The trappings of the world prevent true, meaningful enjoyment, so we gobble up whatever pleasure morsels are dropped. “The Menu” is a fairly yummy crumb. Fleeting satisfaction isn’t insignificant but increasingly the only and best option available to us. Eat up.
Grade = B+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Andrea Thompson at Wealth of Geeks says “Is there anything more delectable than watching the rich eat other? In our era of rampant inequality, and near constant barrage of scandals which involve the ripping off of those with little being robbed to the point of nothing, it’s not likely.”
Gayle Sequeira at Film Companion says “The film becomes more visceral as it veers into wild, delirious horror-movie territory but the strain of intellect remains visible.”
Carla Hay at Culture Mix says the film “has a simple concept and very few surprises. However, the movie has a crackling intensity to it, punctuated by moments of dark comedy, because of the snappy dialogue and the cast members’ always-watchable performances.”