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Review: The Menu (2022)

The Menu (2022)

Directed by: Mark Mylod

Premise: A group of wealthy people attend a fancy multi-course dinner at an exclusive isolated restaurant operated by a celebrated chef (Ralph Fiennes). The meal takes an unexpected turn as the chef’s real agenda is revealed.

What Works: The Menu is fundamentally a black comedy. It’s a mainstream version of the kind of satire seen in 2017’s The Square but The Menu is more accessible and more successful than that film. Instead of fine art, The Menu uses fine dining and designer food as a way to skewer excessive economic inequalities, social class differences, and the pseudo-intellectual claptrap espoused by some cultural critics. The design of The Menu is stylized in a way that invokes high culture spaces. The filmmaking is slick, the set design is pristine, and the action proceeds like a highly choreographed dance. The glossy surface of The Menu contrasts with the grave implications of its premise. The Menu has a few moments of violence but it’s the atmosphere that is really intimidating. That seriousness is offset by a deadpan sense of humor and the contrast is distressing. The Menu is very well edited. The dinner consists of several couples seated at individual tables. We get a sense of each couple’s relationship by their dinner conversation and the way they eat their food and the filmmakers transition elegantly between tables. The sequences are assembled in a way that escalates the tension. The movie creates a sense of mystery at first and gradually heightens the stakes. This is an unpredictable film in exactly the way a thriller ought to be. 

What Doesn’t: The chef’s motives remain vague. We’re led to understand that he’s lost his passion for cooking and his artistic and existential crisis is a result of servicing an exclusive clientele who do not appreciate his work. The scenario of the story does not allow for a deeper exploration of the staff’s motives. The filmmaker’s commitment to a narrow conception of class politics creates a blind spot. The consumers are all members of elite society and they are being punished for their corruption. The restaurant staff are implicitly proletarian but we don’t get a sense of why they have joined their chef in this extreme course of action. There is evidence of a cult of personality around the chef but that’s all that binds them; there isn’t a deeper ideology. The nihilism of the restaurant staff invokes the mindset of doomsday cults and terrorist groups but the filmmaker do not interrogate that idea.

Disc extras: Featurette and deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: The Menu is a bold and unusual film with interesting implications about cultural products, class, and consumerism. It offers a lot to think about while also operating as a tense thriller and a funny black comedy.

Episode: #934 (January 8, 2023)