The Menu is a humorous and horrific satire of the upscale dining establishment and the slavish foodies that willingly and often blindly embrace an expensive and indulgent culinary culture. Screenwriter Will Tracy came up with the idea for the film a few years ago while visiting Bergen, Norway. He took a boat to a fancy restaurant located on a private island. Sitting down to eat, Tracy saw the boat he had traveled on leave the dock and began to worry that he might not get off the island if something terrible happened. Tracy cooked up a script where very, very bad things do indeed occur.
In The Menu, the exclusive restaurant, Hawthorn, is located on a coastal island in the Pacific Northwest. The world renowned Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, as the deliciously evil and slightly mad kitchen master) invites a group of special guests willing to travel and eager to fork over $1,500 a person for his much anticipated tasting menu.
Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult (Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)
This hungry group includes: Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), whose obsessive talk about food can’t mask his scant knowledge and bores his last minute date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy, in a terrific performance); three tech “bros,” already in their cups – Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro), and Dave (Mark St. Cyr.); an older, wealthy, entitled couple, Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney); a restaurant critic, Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), and her magazine editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein); and an over-baked movie star (John Leguizamo), and his assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero), who hopes this will be the last meal she has to share with her boss.
The Cast of The Menu. (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.)
Elsa (Hong Chau), the chef’s general, greets the guests at the dock and escorts them to the restaurant which boasts full length glass windows that provide a breathtaking view of the water. But it is the open kitchen where Chef Slowik directs his large staff that demands everyone’s attention. While Chef Slowik’s reputation precedes him, for these guests he is an enigma so all are eager to watch him perform and sample his food.
“Who’s hungry?” Elsa asks the diners, who eagerly say yes, but will soon loose their appetites for what Chef Slowik dishes out. One of the early offerings consists of half a dozen colorful sauces, artfully placed on a plate, resembling an artist’s pallette. Consuming these dabs, however, becomes difficult, if not impossible, when the chef announces there will be no bread served with this course. Small spoons are used and soon turn the plates into something resembling a child’s finger paint effort.
Ralph Fiennes (Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)
Chef Slowik keeps everyone on edge with his frequent exhortations to his assistants, each accompanied by a loud clap and the young staff’s military-like response of “Yes, chef!” Soon even the most loyal gastronomic guest is eyeing the exits. But the chef is just getting started and blood will soon be spilled.
The wild card turns out to be Margot, a last minute substitution to come with Tyler and someone who does not share her date’s enthusiasm for this experience. Chef Slowik soon zeroes in on her, but he has vastly underestimated the young woman. Margot makes it clear to the chef that she does not like his food, and, in some way, he begins to understand they are on the same side. He would rather serve diners who are honest about his food, rather than those who lap up his creations so they can boast to others that they have eaten at Hawthorn.
I couldn’t help but think about dining at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. that everyone was raving about. Although not located on an island, the restaurant’s location was remote and required some effort to get there. I found the food to be average, the main course, while lovely to look at, leaving me wanting more, and the wait staff, efficient, but robotic. Yet whenever the chef made an appearance in the dining room, he was greeted like a rock star. We made it out unscathed after paying the pricey bill and never returned. My guess is that many watching this film will have similar recollections. But will any of us be able to resist the next celebrity chef and go-to destination restaurant? Probably not, even if our lives depend on it.
Top: Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in the film THE MENU. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.