Brutal and biting, The Menu is one of the most searing films about the class divide I’ve seen in quite some time. Rather than serve up the same old dish of haves and have-nots, here is a film in which the rich eat the rich, showcasing an emptiness with progress and a desire to burn it all down. And it’s such a wickedly delightful experience, perfectly punctuated with sharp tongues and even sharper violence.
At the center of this masterful five-course meal is celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). His meals are so decadent, intricate, and expensive that his spendy restaurant can only be accessed on a remote island. Every dinner he’s hosted comes with a theme and he has a devilish motif for his latest round of well-to-due guests. With the reservations having been made far in advance, he’s prepared a special menu designed to humiliate and eviscerate.
He has quite the guest list to work with. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is an obsessed foodie who can’t stop fanboying his favorite foods and chef. His date Margot (Ana Taylor-Joy) gets his full rundown of the usual suspects that she, unfortunately, has to hear all about. There’s the famed food critic (Janet McTeer) who helped Julian arise to fame while she made other chefs go down in flames. There’s the corrupt businessman (Reed Birney) who you just know has cheated on his wife. There’s the washed-up actor (John Leguizamo) who has settled for mediocrity. And then there are the annoying tech investors who Tyler identifies as the worst of foodie fans.
Their evening is one that they expect to feature a gran presentation, as built up by the eerily stern second-in-command Elsa (Hong Chau). The menu comes with the gimmick slowly being revealed, becoming more apparent when the bread is served with condiments only. With each course served, the curtain is pulled back a little more, eventually revealing his dark desires to wipe the world of such stuffy and uncaring customers. After all, when his most frequent customers can’t tell cad from halibut, it’s hard not be a bit miffed by this rich jerks.
What makes Julian an interesting villain of sorts are his intentions amid his nihilism. He clearly want to burn down the horrible world he’s become accustomed to as a celebrity chef but doesn’t always have the best intentions. Sure, the investors are bunch of greedy bros who deserve a severe punishment, but his reasoning for killing the actor is merely because he disliked a certain movie. So we’re essentially watching the rich eating the rich.
The good news is that Margot is the hero worth rooting for as the middle-class target unwittingly thrown into the crosshairs. Even when Julian’s discovers Margot’s real background, he’s still bound by his menu’s programming that he only sparsly deviates from for extra humiliation. There’s some sharp dialogue between Fiennes and Taylor-Joy that highlights the observation but disconnect between their places in life. Sure, Julian is trying to scarf down the upper-class twats, but on his own dime and of his own will. It’s a vicious desire that can’t be stopped unless something is appealed to beyond his status.
Director Mark Mylod (Succession) certainly knows how to cook up a class satire that is extra crispy. If the characters are not cutting each other with their sharp tongues, they’re doing so with knives and guns. Brains are blown out in a flashy performances for one course of the evening’s menu. Fingers are chopped off when guests get out of line. A mistake in the staging leads to a knive shoved into a throat. It’s all quite bloody and brutal, served up just the way I like it, diced up for just the right moment of shock.
The humor is absolutely uproarious in how it finds just the perfect amount of bluntness and wit to obliterate the corrupted. There are so many darkly amusing moments of humiliation and playfulness with the deadly evening. Even the menu itself becomes a part of the joke with such absurd subtitles for the ingredients and the motives behind each dish.
There is so much to love about The Menu with its perfect mixture of class satire, foodie mockery, stellar casting, and pitch-black comedy. Without divulging the ending, let’s just say it’s going to fit neatly into a category of films that could be labeled as “Movies Where One Woman Survives To Observe Firey Disaster While Toasting To Her Survival.” Ready or Not may be the only film on that list right now but let’s hope it’s a growing trend since this movie was oh-so-satisfying.