Director: Mark Mylod
Writers: Seth Reiss (Written By), Will Tracy (Written By)
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau
The more we learn about Chef Slowik, it is increasingly obvious he couldn’t have been played by anyone other than Ralph Fiennes. And if that weren’t enough to recommend The Menu, any movie that shows me how to build the perfect cheeseburger is time well spent.
As the world’s most famous and respected celebrity chef, Slowik has a restaurant located on an island that not-only provides the ingredients for all his dishes, he and his fiercely loyal staff also live there. His clientele typically consists of rich, privileged folks who think nothing of paying $1,200 each for the opportunity to sample his cuisine. The elaborate menu consists of several courses, each with a story regaled by Slowik himself, who appears to have a personal stake in their taste and appearance.
We meet his latest group of patrons first, boarding the boat which will carry them to the island. Aside from professional escort Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), none of them appear particularly likable, especially her date, self-professed foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who hires her to take his ex-girlfriend’s place (which initially upsets Swolik, for reasons soon made clear). Of all the snobs and entitled douchebags invited to dine that night, Tyler is by-far the worst – and the funniest – especially once the evening takes a sinister turn.
The chef has this particular group in-mind when creating the menu, which begins inauspiciously – if not comically pretentious – but grows increasingly unnerving (and violent) with each course. And the more we learn of his agenda, the more we tend to think his clientele might ultimately deserve what Swolik has in store for them. Surprisingly, the patrons themselves eventually appear resigned to their fates (something I’ve personally not seen in a film of this sort).
Aside from the ample amounts of black comedy and none-too-subtle satire, Fiennes’ performance in The Menu is what ultimately drives the narrative and makes Swolik such a memorable character. As an actor, he’s always been a master of displaying understated grace when playing complex characters, so while Swolik is the de facto antagonist, Fiennes depicts him with equal measures of empathy and pathos, which is far more engaging than just another twisted villain with an evil agenda. In a way, the overall sense of fatalism instigated by Swolik renders the climax both haunting and oddly amusing.
Taylor-Joy is also effective as Margot, sort-of representing the audience as the not-so-casual observer of Swolik’s violent brand of poetic justice. Elsewhere, The Menu is a lot of wicked fun, with moments that are both horrifying and hilarious, sometimes within the same scene. But the movie belongs to Fiennes. Not only is it hard to imagine anyone in the role, he manages to turn a simple cheeseburger into a goddamn work of art.