by Howard Purvee
This review will contain spoilers for “The Menu.”
What makes an art form magical? Maybe it’s the prestige of the artist. It could be the monetary value. Or perhaps it’s the joy that the partaking individuals get out of the art. This is the main question and theme of the 2022 film “The Menu”.
It follows a small group of patrons to an exclusive evening with one of the world’s top chefs, Chef Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes. The foodies have paid a handsome price for this dining experience and are promised the menu will be chef’s finest yet.
Tension between the staff and guests grows as the evening becomes sinister. It becomes clear not everyone will be leaving alive.
If you are expecting a scary horror slasher…you should choose another movie. “The Menu” is more focused on being a critique of critic culture itself and nails the comedy of a satire, while still having a good sense of dread and tension in its darker scenes.
The main conflict of the film revolves around Anya Taylor-Joy’s character Margot and whether or not she is a “giver or a taker”. She and Chef Slowik find they are both service workers…in slightly different ways.
They discuss how they both used to enjoy giving their clients respective “experiences”. But the joy has been sucked out of their lives.
This is why Chef plans on this menu being his last, he’s going out with a statement about why the culture surrounding the highest form of his art is slowly destroying it. It is revealed that he plans on everyone dying at the end of the night and he chose the guests for various reasons.
The guest that stands out the most however, is Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult, who was Margot’s date for the evening. This character is so caught up in the study and critique of making food, that he hasn’t bothered actually learning the art and using his knowledge.
In a hard-to-watch moment near the end of the film, Chef asks Tyler to prepare a dish using any ingredients and utensils he wants. With the world of food at his disposal, we watch Tyler sweatily prepare a dish as Chef taunts him, giving the viewer shades of a more subtle Gordon Ramsey.
The dish he serves up is deemed inedible and Chef whispers something so soul-crushing to Tyler, that we later discover that the traumatized man hung himself shortly after.
It serves as a scene for people who enjoy any art form (food, painting, films, etc.) to take a look at their own work and assess if they are as naive as Tyler. Are we simply ridiculing and critiquing to give ourselves a sense of power, or do we actually care about the art that we are so invested in.
That is what I love about this movie. It could have been a simple horror movie about a restaurant complete with cannibalism and guts galore. But instead, the filmmakers gave us a smart film about what it means to create and enjoy art.
The second big idea I took away from this film was the relationship between Margot and Chef Slowik.
The climax of the evening culminates in Margot asking him for a traditional cheeseburger. He is taken aback by this and after preparing her the burger, he allows her to leave unharmed.
While this might confuse some on a first watch, the reasoning behind it is beautiful. Margot asks for a cheeseburger after seeing a photo of Slowik at his first fast food job, grinning ear to ear. By asking Chef for a burger, she gives him the experience of what it was like when he was truly happy. He is taken back to simpler times when food wasn’t about money or prestige, it was about creating.
Grateful for this reminder, he realizes she truly is a “giver” and grants her an exit before the final course. This film was much deeper than I initially expected, and I highly recommend it.
It is shot well, the stylistic choices are spot on, and the stellar cast and balance of tone are enough for me to rate it 4 out of 5 stars. (WARNING: there are two instances of self-harm in this movie).