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The Menu

For the better part of two decades, celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay have created empires based on their beautiful food and larger-than-life personalities. There’s something inherently hilarious and thrilling in seeing a grown man that is responsible for creating dishes so exquisite that they are considered works of art reducing another adult to tears under the guise of mass entertainment.  

The idea of a divinely talented, slightly unhinged genius gets the cinematic treatment in the blissfully bizarre film THE MENU. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the king of the culinary world, the horror-based satire takes some of the same wealth-skewering aspects of THE GLASS ONION, and takes them to shockingly grotesque (and hilarious) levels. 

Much like the most recent KNIVES OUT venture, a group of wealthy and entitled guests board a boat and make their way to an exclusive engagement. They are to dine in the restaurant of the world-famous chef, Julian Slowick (Fiennes) who creates one-of-a-kind menus at each dinner that is served.  

Self-professed foodie Tyler Ledford (Nicholas Hoult) is giddy at the mere thought of spending time with Slowick and his creations, while his partner Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) could honestly seem to care less. Meanwhile food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) is intrigued by the chance to once again share the room with Slowick, whom she put on the map with one of his first glowing reviews. Other guests include fading movie-star (John Leguizamo), a group of businessmen (Rob Yang, Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro), and aging couple Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light).

As the courses begin, THE MENU plays out as a sumptuous drama that is interspersed with a few humorous lines and some mouth-watering food. As is often the case with the food shows that are now common place on virtually every network and streaming service on television, we are given close-ups and explanations of what each course entails. At the restaurant itself, Slowick introduces and explains each dish and the inspiration behind it. While these begin innocuously enough, there are some slight hints in the sprawling monologues delivered by the Chef that something might be amiss.  By the time the third course rolls around, a shocking display of violence shatters the precarious tranquility of the meal, and THE MENU truly takes a turn.

I love a good film that toys with conventions and manipulates expectations. That is where THE MENU shines. Director Mark Mylod and screenwriters Will Tracy and Seth Reiss put the audience at ease by providing them with the casual comfort that has made food programs the guilty and universal pleasure of millions of viewers around the globe.  They also sprinkle in a fair amount of Gordon Ramsay (even interjecting a “you donkey” insult for good measure) as he is arguably the face of this particular fire brand of chefs.  The slow-burn way in which the evening begins dissolve before jarring us so completely is done so magnificently that I instantly wondered where things would possibly go from there. In a medium of predictability, this was anything but.    

The ensemble cast is fantastic, led by Fiennes and Taylor-Joy. Though they will reap the much-deserved accolades, Hoult and Leguizamo are equally impressive, as is the unsettling maître d’ Elsa, played to perfection by Hong Chau. Despite the carnage unfolding, she consistently finds a way to steal every scene, coming across as both hilarious and terrifying in equal measures. Each performer successfully embodies their increasingly deplorable characters, and as the film progresses and truths are exposed, we begin to learn why each one of them (well, okay, maybe most of them) found their way to this particular tasting.  

Fusing sumptuous visuals with memorable performances, an elegant soundtrack, and a sharp script, THE MENU seems right at home in the thick of the award season buzz, and has stayed with me long after the courses were completed.


Now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.  

Brian Miller