Now playing at our local cinema is Director Mark Mylod’s paen to over-priced food and uber pretentious foodies, “The Menu.”
The film stars Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, who once slung burgers as the Employee of the Month at Howie’s Hamburgers, but has now become an elitest snob even more superficial than his wealthy customers.
The film opens with the truly elitest group boarding a boat to sail to a private island for a dinner priced at $1,250 per person. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is a foodie of the first class who has been following Chef Slowik’s career for years and has been( corresponding with him for 8 months, (as we later learn,)
First question: if someone who was going to cook for you told you that by accepting the invitation to come to the island to eat, you were signing your ow death warrant, would you still accept the invitation? No. I didn’t think so. It is those lapses between reality and the deux machina that makes this movie work that are the negatives, but there are many positives, including Anya Taylor-Joy as the female lead accompanying young Tyler to dinner.
As it turns out, Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Qheen’s Gambit,” 2020; “Split,” 2016) is a substitute for Tyler’s original date. As you get to know Tyler, thanks to the witty script from Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, it is easy to see why none of the cool girls ever wanted to go to Prom with him, and why he hired Anya Taylor-Joy’s hooker, Margo, to accompany him to the island, after his original date broke it off. [Tyler is the kind of date whose obsession with the topic and annoying devotion to the entire concept of Chef Slowik dserves breaking off.]
The clip from the film shows the apparently Mad As A Hatter Chef Slowik telling the guests at his fabled restaurant, that the men will be given 45 seconds to run for their lives. Ergo, we know fro the start that this is no ordinary dinner party with high-priced food that may be close to inedible to the average palate. After all, these palates are not “average” or ordinary. These are exceptionally rich people who feel that they are just slightly better than others who cannot afford this kind of food.
My feeling about Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, like the chef himself, is that she is a working class stiff—a service industry caterer like Ralph Fiennes. He recognizes her as “different” from the others because of that, but also accuses her of ruining his entire presentation by being present on this finale night. Margo is a no bullshit kind of gal. She does the most to attempt to save herself. She basically calls out the phoney baloney food (or lack of food) and demands a cheeseburger, at one point in time. And she gets it.
The set decoration (Gretchen Gathuso), art direction (Lindsey Moran) and production design (Ethan Tobman), as well as the cinematography by Peter Deming were all exquisite. The restaurant’s interior reminded me of a hotel I stayed in once, in a town I shall not name, which was so sterile and uncozy that I was tempted to check out in the middle of the night. The costuming is also fantastic and the entire film is so well-done that I can recommend it when it streams as well-paced (John Leguizamo is a joy, always) and fun to watch, even as we recognize that it is really all style and no substance. It works for “The Glass Onion,” why not this film?