Culinary films make our mouths water.
Think “Chef,” “Big Night” and “The Hundred Foot Journey.” They’re the worst thing to happen to diets since Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
“The Menu” has the opposite effect.
The dishes on display dazzle, but something isn’t right with both the master chef and those sampling his cuisine. That unease is the heart of this wickedly executed treat, a thriller that overstays its welcome but leaves us feeling full.
Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy star as Tyler and Margot, a couple invited to an exclusive dinner thrown by a world-renowned chef. Tyler’s a certified food snob, and she’s his cynical “plus one.” She remains open-minded, and a tad curious, about the food awaiting them.
These aren’t just meals delivered in a spectacular fashion. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) or just “Chef” to his cult-like minions, builds stories course by magnificent course.
Tyler and Margot are joined by a motley crew of the rich, famous and pampered. Janet McTeer is an unctuous food critic, while John Leguizamo plays a fading movie star eager to impress his colleague and possible lover.
Other diners are far too young to have earned their fortunes, but their connections bought them entry into this extravagant affair.
Ralph Fiennes has played dashing heroes, terrifying villains, and now, a disillusioned head chef in ‘The Menu.’ To celebrate, EW serves up a list of the actor’s best performances. https://t.co/VRhgxqgnfC
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) November 16, 2022
Director Mark Mylod (“Succession, “Game of Thrones”) spares no cinematic expense here. The various courses are given title cards, and Mylod makes sure the minute details enjoy rapturous close-ups. It’s edible art, and we marvel at the craftspeople who make it possible.
They’re all working under Chef’s strict orders, awaiting his signature hand clap to begin. He’s warm but demanding, a boss who craves nothing short of perfection.
And there’s something creepy about every aspect of the menu and Chef’s loyal servants.
The mysteries won’t be spoiled here, but the film’s satirical edge is razor sharp and never loses its edge. “The Menu” roasts these self-absorbed diners, eager to climb societal ranks by any means necessary.
The courses are equally cynical. Many go to bed hungry while these meals are made as much for their aesthetic splendor as their taste.
You may never look at your plate the same way again.
Hoult, often cast as a hero or flawed protagonist, flashes a meaty ego his date finds off-putting.
Get in line.
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Fiennes makes his Chef the ultimate artist – relentless in his craft, unbending to the outside world. It’s a marvelous turn, suggesting the tortured soul of a genius with a skin as thin as a souffle.
“The Menu” should have been shorter. The film’s satirical punch lines are exhausted by the third act, and it’s impossible to lap what we’ve already seen. Still, Mylod and his team keep our attention through the final, stark imagery, lavishing even more surprises before the final reveal.
Hong Chau deserves special mention as one of Chef’s key assistants. She’s firm and unflappable, willing to serve her boss in any way possible. She’s a wildly original character, and every time she’s on screen the film enjoys a heady boost.
Mocking the spoiled diners assembled here is a satirical layup, and “The Menu” feasts on their greed. That it does so with snap and finesse puts it in a comic class of its own.
HiT or Miss: “The Menu” seduces with its spectacular first act, and while the rest can’t quite measure up it’s still an intoxicating social satire.