The Menu Review



The Menu digests its characters; it breaks them down into their simplest forms, reduces them to a single characteristic or trait. This review contains spoilers for the entirety of the plot of the film The Menu. The film opens with Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a quiet, unimpressed guest of Tyler’s (Nicholas Hoult), a self-proclaimed foodie; she analyzes the eclectic group of characters awaiting the boat to an avant garde tasting course: a food critic, Lillian, and her editor, Ted, (Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein), a wealthy couple, Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney), a triad of young business partners, Bryce, Soren, and Dave (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr), and a failing movie star and his assistant Felicity (John Leguizamo and Aimee Carrero).
The guests board the ship, heading to the island at which they will be dining. The first hints of unease between Margot and Tyler begin to arise as Margot realizes that she was not the original choice for his accompaniment to the dinner. 

The multi-course dinner begins to unravel after this. One of the sous chefs is brought to the front of the room to present a dish. The acclaimed Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), then proceeds to fiercely berate him, criticizing any action he has ever made, and unveiling the delicate persona he has played for so long. A string ensemble builds until it escalates to a graphic scene; the sous chef draws a revolver to the back of his throat, splatting the tarp behind him with dark red blood. Despite these disturbances, Tyler, who has a strange obsession with the chef and a desire to be liked by him, continues to eat and compliment the food in front of him. Other guests are initially horrified, but dismiss it as some sort of artistic  performance, a part of this extravagant dining experience. They soon learn of the unsettling fate that awaits them, and that this was not staged. At one point Richard attempts to leave, but he is stopped by a waitress (Hong Chau) who comes off quite sinister from the beginning. She prevents him from exiting and then asks  him “which hand” and “which finger”. At his lack of response, Elsa (Hong Chau), chops his ring finger off with a butcher’s cleaver. Lillian and her subservient editor are amused by this, maintaining the falsehood that what they are witnessing is a scripted performance. Greta (Anya Taylor-Joy) steps aside to find the bathroom and is intrigued by an ominous silver door which she tries to enter. Elsa stops her, informing her that she is not allowed to enter, and directs her to the bathroom where she lights a cigarette. Greta is alone in the bathroom when Chef Slowik appears; he asks her which side she is on, the guests, or the staff. She chooses the staff, and he recognizes her place as part of the service industry. She is an escort, the same one Richard cheated on Anne with. 

This has no effect on the women surrounding her aside from Anne, who she exchanges a look of understanding with. After being asked to collect an ingredient from the Chef’s cabin , Elsa attacks Greta, attempting to kill her with a knife. Greta smashes a large metal kitchen appliance to her head, disarms her of the knife, and then proceeds to stab it into Elsa’s neck. Greta cowers at the murder she just committed, she then enters the silver door. Inside is a tomb of memories, showing pictures of the various events in his culinary career. Greta is intrigued by one photo picturing him as a fry cook at a fast food restaurant, presumably his first job in the service industry,  She then sees a radio and attempts to call for help. 

Upon her return to the dinner a boat is seen in the distance of the water. Chef Slowik appears panicked; he tells the guests that any attempt to communicate for help will result in the death of whoever came to save them. The guests maintain the facade in the coast guard’s presence until one of the guests, who is a movie star, is recognized by him and asked to sign an autograph. As the coast guard member is leaving the restaurant he opens up the autograph, bearing the simple phrase ‘HELP US’, he raises his gun and orders everyone to stay still and seated, before revealing his gun to be a prop lighter, and his role as an actor for the dinner.

In one of the final scenes, Greta stands up and shouts at the chef.  She proclaims that she loathes his food, how devoid of love and soul it is, how it is nothing but a soulless appeal to the upper class and how it makes a mockery of genuine connection with food. This seems to take Chef Slowik out of his usual persona- an unsettling mix of calmness and obsessive control. He is shocked, slightly offended, and asks what she would like instead. She orders a cheeseburger, a coy connection to the picture she saw in his cabin. He obliges and makes it for her himself, employing all of his culinary skills for a dish so simple, and aiming for perfection She takes a bite, pays the check, and then the chef allows her to leave the restaurant. She drives a boat away from the island altogether. Dessert is then served to the remaining guests, graham cracker dust floods the black tile floor, shawls of interlocking marshmallows are placed upon the guests, and circular crowns of chocolate are placed upon their heads. 

The shot cuts back to an overhead view, revealing the intricate designs created by the dust as well as various pastes and sauces. Chef Slowik grabs a handful of hot coals and walks to the center of the room before dropping them, lighting both the guests and staff ablaze in glorious murder suicide. 

As a critique of the upper class and capitalism itself, The Menu poses as an intricate satire. Julian Slowik recognizes his position in this world as subservient to the upper class and as one whose inherent purpose is to cater to them. With the actual dinner served to the guests, he is mocking them and their pretentiousness. He understands how soulless and empty his cooking has become and how these same people that adore his dishes make no genuine attempt to look deeper into them. Greta challenges this, she resents the chef’s cooking and does not try to appease him by presenting the falsehood of nuance and esotericism that he hopes for. At the climax point of the movie, when she orders a cheeseburger, she is not only diverging from every guest at the dinner, but also the standards that forced them into the rigidity that contains them now. This humble request for a hamburger resonates with Julian, there is a subtle understanding between them; they both know their roles in society, and that a true connection between food and oneself requires one to have substance, something that has been dissolved by the trappings of wealth in Chef Slowik.

The performances in this film were slightly lackluster. I enjoyed Anya Taylor-Joy as Greta, but felt that there were times where she fell flat, she coasted on her appearance at parts where the scene felt deserving of a more impactful performance. Outside of the lead, the supporting cast was excellent, they captured the essence of being digested by the dinner itself so effortlessly and helped make up for an underwhelming lead. Ralph Fiennes was amazing as Julian Slowik, he maintained the calm facade so well, and Greta’s criticism seemed to genuinely affect him. Overall, I was extremely engrossed in this film. I felt that all of the performances were at least fairly strong and that the filmography behind it made up for any weaknesses in the performances and script.