By Madeleine Wall
For Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), the mastermind behind Hawthorne, a prestigious farm to table restaurant located on an isolated island, revenge is a dish best served in multiple courses. He’s invited a select dozen to his restaurant, known for its inventive approach to food, molecular gastronomy at its finest, for a perfectly planned evening. The dozen, which include an old moneyed couple, obnoxious tech bros, a washed-up actor, and a pretentious food critic, are all ingredients of the corroded world of fine dining, with a focus on money and prestige over all else. One of these guests, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), brought along as foodie Tyler’s (Nicholas Hoult) date, was a last-minute substitution, and the wrench thrown into Slowik’s plans. For as Slowik introduces each dish, it’s clear that this evening is intended to be the last for everyone in attendance.
The Menu is a movie whose ideas of food and restaurants are shaped by Netflix reality shows, and whose ideas of wealth are shaped by the whites and navy colour palates of HBO prestige television, a space where director Mark Mylod has successfully spent the last few years. Though often funny, The Menu neglects to learn its own lesson, that the whole needs to be greater than its parts. There’s a misstep in thinking that Margot’s cynical, above-it-all attitude about the restaurant from the get go is less grating than her pretentious date’s reverence for it, and this voice of reason becomes as cliched as what she’s meant to juxtapose. It’s satisfying to satirize the ultra-wealthy in the way that comfort food is satisfying, but the breadth of The Menu is quite shallow. What would happen if we were served something more challenging, something as unpalatable as thinking about the food system on a larger scale? The Menu ends with the idea that the saving grace to its issues around food culture and wealth can be solved by an all-American cheeseburger, which is all the more galling when you think about the world outside this island—the Amazon isn’t being burned down to make foam in seashells.