wed 30/11/2022

The Menu review - Ralph Fiennes stars in culinary black comedy | reviews, news & interviews

The Menu review - Ralph Fiennes stars in culinary black comedy

The Menu review - Ralph Fiennes stars in culinary black comedy

Deranged chef wreaks revenge: a promising idea that lacks flavour

Yes, chef: Ralph Fiennes as Julian Slowik

A fine cast, starring Ralph Fiennes as a deranged super-chef along with Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, Rob Yang and an exclusive restaurant serving horror as a main course – it sounds deliciously promising. But although there are some arresting images, this black comedy doesn’t quite deliver.

Directed by Mark Mylod with a script by Will Tracy (both have worked on episodes of Succession) and Seth Reiss, the dialogue is disappointing, the plotting inconsistent and it’s hard to care about any of the characters. If you want culinary drama, Boiling Point and The Bear are far more interesting. Or indeed Chef’s Table, the documentary series that Fiennes studied for inspiration.

“Do not eat, our menu is too precious,” master chef Julian Slowik (a formidably intense Fiennes) tells the guests at his minimalist restaurant, Hawthorn, which is only accessible by boat and charges $1,250 a head. Once there, you’re trapped. (The film was partly shot on an island off the coast of Georgia). Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel  – or Agatha Christie – may have been an inspiration but The Menu lacks subtlety and some of its gratuitous, over-the-top nastiness leaves a very bad taste.

Eating is too proletarian: relish and be mindful instead, molecular gastronomist Slowik commands. The food is rarefied and insubstantial, featuring, for example, scallops perched on rocks, a lot of micro-purées and foam and a breadless bread-plate. Beautifully shot and presented, this is pretentious food porn à la French Laundry or Noma.

menuThe 11 guests – the place only seats 12 – are carefully picked, all with some agenda that Slowik objects to, except for down-to-earth, cheeseburger-loving escort Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy; The Queen’s Gambit; The Northman, pictured above), that is, who wasn’t supposed to be there. Her date, culinary snob Tyler (Nicholas Hoult; The Favourite; The Great), who's obsessed with Slowik and likes showing off his knowledge of gadgets like the Paco Jet, brought her along at the last minute and she’s upset the balance in the execution of the chef’s evil plan. And there’s his grim old mother, who doesn’t eat at all, only boozes silently in a corner, a shade from his troubled past. Success, it seems, has driven him mad.

These unpleasantly privileged people include a food critic (Janet McTeer), who refers to the seafood as “thalassic” and specialises in shutting restaurants down with her scathing reviews; three entitled, tipsy tech bros (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St Cyr); a film star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant and a miserable couple who’ve been to the restaurant 11 times but can’t remember anything they’ve eaten there. They’re shown the way off the boat by alarmingly cool maître d’ Elsa (Hong Chau), accompanied by goats. The chef lives on the island in a separate house that no one is allowed to enter. The staff don’t leave either. It’s more of a cult than a career.

menu2The kitchen is, of course, part of the dining-room, a chilly, stylish space with huge picture windows overlooking the sea. None of the usual kitchen chaos here: everything is impressively restrained, and the coordinated cries of “Yes chef,” are deafening, as are Slowik’s hand-claps punctuating the action. Slowly the chef’s revenge plot emerges, engraved upon personalised tortillas that cause general consternation among the baffled guests – a clever idea that somehow falls flat.

Each section of the film is divided into courses, culminating in a gloriously inventive s’mores dessert that takes over the whole floor of the restaurant as well as the marshmallow-festooned, terrified clientele. But when working-class Margot, the only one who knows how to outwit Slowik (and even that fails to convince), says, “You’ve failed and you’ve bored me and I’m still fucking hungry,” you know where she’s coming from.

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