Released: 24th November
Seen: 27th November

When reading film criticism, one comparison you will often find is the critics comparing a piece of art to food. It’s so common that it’s basically a cliche, if you want to make fun of a critic you merely need to say something in a slightly upper-crust accent and compare whatever you’re talking about to a common item of food. For example “The painting’s colour palette is as vivacious as a freshly grown strawberry”, it means absolutely nothing but sounds just intellectual enough to work in most cases.

Comparing a film to food is actually kind of appropriate since a film, like a well-made dish, it only works when a perfect set of ingredients are mixed together just right. A film, like a good meal, can excite, depress or make you feel rather ill. Sometimes a meal/film will centre on one specific ingredient/actor and sometimes it’s an ensemble… and The Menu is an ensemble made up of the finest ingredients known to man, I swear I’m going to try and refrain from any more food metaphors from here on out but I make no actual promises.

The Menu takes place on a remote island that’s inhabited by world-famous chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and his loyal staff of line cooks and waiters who run the exclusive restaurant known as Hawthorne. Today is a special day as Julian and his staff host a glorious meal for a distinguished group of invited guests, including noted restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), film actor George Díaz (John Leguizamo) and food-obsessed fanboy Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) among many others. 

Unexpectedly, Tyler has brought along a date named Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) who was not on the original invitation list which intrigues Julian. However, even with an unexpected guest turning up to take part in the festivities, nothing will sway Julian from following his perfectly prepared menu… a menu that contains amazing appetizers, electrifying entrees, delectable dinners and a whole lot of death.

The Menu is one of the most controlled films you will ever see, every single scene is prepared to perfection and presented without an ounce of fat to be seen. Its timing couldn’t be better, every line of dialogue is either fascinating, essential to the overall plot or just flat-out hilarious. It’s so carefully thought out that every element of the film is as perfect as it can possibly be, you can certainly try your best to find a fault in what’s there but good luck with finding one. Every performance is finely tuned, every shot is beautiful (particularly the glorious close-ups of every dish presented, a stylistic choice that only adds to the overall tension) and a finale that’s such a perfect moment of dark comedy that it must be seen to be believed.

The Menu (2022) - Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy
The Menu (2022) – Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy

What makes The Menu work as well as it does is how carefully it plays with tension building, which it does almost from the moment the film begins. Everything just feels off, there’s obviously something strange happening on the island from the beginning but it holds back until you are just about to get comfortable before the first major shock happens and it never lets up from then on out. It keeps ratcheting up the tension, getting more and more twisted the longer the film goes on. Every course served manages to make the audience just feel uneasy, not knowing who will make it out of this weird restaurant.

The Menu is also just deliriously funny, somehow managing to pull out incredible belly laughs in between some of the most intense sequences in the film. It’s a very careful tightrope to walk, to have you laughing and feeling some intense gut-wrenching emotion but considering one of the writers also worked for Last Week Tonight perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock that they can dance between intense emotions so easily. That flawless blending of comedy and terror gives The Menu such a specific tone that is so easy to get fully invested in. 

The absolute shining star of The Menu is Ralph Fiennes, who guides the entire film with a kind of intense gravitas that never wavers for a second. His character is that blessed combination of absolutely terrifying and grotesquely fascinating, every time he speaks you just can’t help but pay attention. He commands the room with ease, it’s one of those performances that you just want to study for hours on end to figure out how on earth he is pulling this off. 

Indeed every performance is perfection, Anya Taylor Joy is a glorious main character who you can root for, Nicholas Hoult plays the worst fanboy ever with the kind of dedication that is to be admitted and Judith Light… is Judith Light so therefore she’s perfect just by existing. The point is that it’s an incredible ensemble cast who work brilliantly together, which is impressive considering most of the time the cast isn’t even interacting with anyone outside of their assigned table.

By the time The Menu has hit its end (one of the most gloriously surreal and silly endings you can imagine that’s also bizarrely poetic considering the rest of the film), the audience will feel absolutely satisfied by the strange delights that have been presented. This is one of those films that is just so damn good it’s hard to describe unless you lean into the obvious metaphor… The Menu is like a carefully crafted meal made with love and the finest ingredients known to man. It’s indulgent, classic, full of flavour and something you’ll want to share with anyone who you can. Truly, this is a masterpiece of a film that will have your mouth watering with delight the entire time you experience it.

2 thoughts on “The Menu (2022) – Eat Up

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