Producer Adam McKay’s mode of choice is spoofing, and he delivers the expected lampoons here in “The Menu” by director Mark Mylod. The tongue is appropriately in cheek as if to taste a hint of endive, sudden and unexpected with some bitter belly laughs. Though this is a single joke film, it is well handled and appropriately macabre.
A group of wealthy people are on excursion to a remote island to experience gastronomic tourism, having tickets to an exclusive restaurant. They are greeted by Elsa (Hong Chau) the formal but polite restaurant captain who leads the snooty group on a tour, pointing out the cattle and the sheep and the hand-built smokehouse. Elsa explains that there is no separation between creating a meal and life itself. All aspects of animal raising, food handling and cuisine are done with ultimate precision and a Zen attention to detail. This prelude is terrific because it portrays something of the true heart of the chef and the passion within.
After the sociopathic foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is rebuffed asking to see the chef’s private quarters, the guests are taken to the restaurant space, resembling an art gallery with black walls and recessed lighting. The piggish guests indeed feel righteous, duly blessed to taste the delectable delights of the salivary maestro, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes).
An self-inflated movie star (John Leguizamo) is eager to please his mistress and throw his importance about. Anne (Judith Light) and Richard (Reed Birney) are veteran patrons. Also present are two business partners (Mark St Cyr and Rob Yang), along with a food critic (Janet McTeer), and a mysterious old woman (Rebecca Koon) sitting at a far table.
Tyler spies the chef in the kitchen and is starstruck. Chef Slowik notices and seems annoyed.
After a fine first starter, the guests are unpleasantly surprised to find that a course with condiments sans bread is purposeful by design and not a mistake. Surely this is a theatrical bit of social commentary and not because Tyler insulted the chef. Tyler hides his alarm while the business men are beside themselves in an environment without bread.
Tyler’s date Erin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is still upset, rightly so, that she was not his first choice to attend.
Slowik announces that the next course is created by his sous chef, titled The Mess. After some lengthy acidic affronts by Chef Slowik, including “Godfather” style kisses, the deflated chef makes a terminal choice.
Though this film is chiefly about ghoulish gastronomy, Fiennes is a real person and his speech about bread and eating with mindful attention will find accord with any chef. Though he enjoys this gruesome role, Fiennes does not exaggerate his character. We see the progression from media darling to sardonic sourpuss bent on masochism and sadism, the martyrdom of a chef. There is not just blood on his shirt but the savagery of chocolate laced with mold.
Only a no frills burger with American cheese can bring him back to the days of greasy innocence and as the camera zooms in lovingly with sizzling closeups, we feel Slowik’s happiness and his dark lament, beyond hope.
In intent, this film has the commentary of “Triangle of Sadness” with its self-satisfied patrons sickened and crazed but the knives here slice more cleanly.
The last scene of flesh and chocolate is worth the entire main course—an Orientalist fever dream of Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” and Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org