There’s always an excitement in the air when you are getting to see a film before anyone else. This is not me bragging, it’s just a fact. Especially something like THE MENU, which I had seen the trailer for, but had avoided all “buzz”. I was invited to an advanced screening of THE MENU thanks to Wisconsin film critic Ryan Jay and his Movie Club, but also in line were film critics and moviegoers who had won tickets from a local radio station. It was a mixed bag.
I won’t lie, I felt like a big shot as I walked into the auditorium and saw the seats were assigned. Those who won tickets from the radio were all the way in the back and the lucky few who were able to get in without an invite were in front, practically pressed against the screen. The critics had the best seat in the house (middle of the theatre to 1/3 of the way back). The small group of us personally invited by Ryan Jay were a row or two behind them. Those lucky enough to get in off the streets scrambled for the few empty seats that remained. They stalked the vacant seats like prey, never breaking eye contact with their prize – a red, pleather chair. I watched the hunt from my perch, feeling superior.
The lights went down and over the next 107 minutes we were treated to Mark Mylod’s THE MENU and the irony of feeling like a “big shot” after what I had saw was not lost on me…
THE MENU is about an elite group of people who paid an exorbitant amount of money ($1,250 a head) to dine at an exclusive restaurant called Hawthorne which, in what feels like it’s straight from a James Bond movie, is located on a private island. There’s an assorted group of people from hedge fund bros, a washed-up actor (John Leguizamo), his assistant, your average rich dorks, a food critic, and a passionate foodie with his “date” (Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy) who really had to dig deep to afford this night of extravagance. We find out that this restaurant is run like a boot camp (or a cult, your pick) and that the head chef, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), has promised that this menu will be the greatest ever created.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the film as it’s an excellent ride from beginning to end and I found myself smiling a devilish grin with every twist and turn. The movie, much like a good comfort meal, manages to ride the line of being exactly what you anticipate while also surprising you with more complexity than expected. I couldn’t help but think about Michael Sarnowski’s PIG which was released in 2021. PIG is a movie that takes a well-known genre, the revenge film, and subverts our expectations and sets it in the crazy culinary underground. THE MENU manages to do the same thing by subverting expectations of a ”whydunit” mystery and it gave me elements that reminded me of Douglas Hickox’s THEATRE OF BLOOD or even James Wan’s SAW.
The performances, as expected, are incredible. Ralph Fiennes never fails to please, and Anya Taylor-Joy continues her hot streak of choosing interesting projects and can say so much with the most subtle of expressions. If I had to pick anything apart, I’d say the biggest flaw of the film is its undercooked characters. THE MENU, with its rather large cast, favors caricatures over characters in most cases, so much so that John Leguizamo’s character doesn’t even have a name and is only referred to as Movie Star. To the film’s credit, there are subtle little elements at play that give us a larger view into their lives, but in the end, I knew exactly who each person was because they were painted with such broad strokes.
At one point in the film, Julian Slowik corners Margot (Taylor-Joy) and questions her to get behind why she’s there. It’s made obvious early in the film that Margot’s date, Tyler, originally had someone else selected for this meal. We’re made to believe there is an in-depth vetting process for this evening and that these meals are catered toward the person dining with great, painstaking detail. Quickly Slowik realizes something is awry and, after grilling her, tells Margot she does not belong.
I felt this. Here I am, with a group of strangers, watching a movie about entitled people who don’t truly appreciate what they’ve been given. As I stated before, the irony of this night was not lost on me. I am at this screening because of a connection I had. I’m not better than the people fighting for a decent seat. As Slowik says in the film, “you my dear guests, are not the common man”. THE MENU is a great film filled with exceptional performances, wonderful cinematography, and some wicked moments, but if we should be left with anything it’s that we should always remember we are all the common man. At one-point Slowik urges his guests not to “eat” his food, but instead they should “taste” it. Don’t take for granted the little gifts in life, even if it’s just getting to see a movie before anyone else.
Available in theatres on November 18th, 2022