Now Playing — The Menu

The guests arrive expecting a feast. This is not just any generously appointed meal, mind you. It is the sort of vast, all-encompassing experience promised by chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) at his exceedingly exclusive restaurant Hawthorne. With a price tag of over one thousand dollars per belly, a dinner at Hawthorne is an experience as much as a meal, the densely imagined and precisely plated dishes on the preset menu all working together to tell a story. On the night when devoted foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his dining companion Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last-minute substitute for Tyler’s now ex-girlfriend, occupy of the handful of tables in the island eater, the chef has cooked up quite a story indeed.

With a screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu is a horror film laced with rascally satire. Befitting a couple of alumni of The Onion, the co-writers fling their comic darts at all targets. The kitchen cult that arises around pompous culinary artistry is gets a ribbing, but so do the patrons who are either careless or snobbish about the lovingly assembled plates put before them. There’s some class commentary at play in the story, too, with the casual, comfortably ugliness of privilege constantly sullying the atmosphere. That aspect of the interaction lends a special tingle of satisfaction to the moments of increasingly firm pushback from Elsa (Hong Chau), the front-of-house manager who guides the guests to their places.

For all the thematic ingredients tossed in by the handful, the primary pleasure of The Menu is the way it’s clearly been structured to be a zingy, eager entertainment. Director Mark Mylod keeps the pace snappy and skillfully sneaks up on the plot’s many tart revelations. If the chef has lost his passion for serving an occasionally ungrateful audience, the filmmakers exhibit the exact opposite state of being with their collective showmanship. There are all manner of nifty flourishes, such as the onscreen text that details the individual courses, and the performances are all delivered with a scrappy liveliness. If the plot points are occasionally a bit less subtle, it can be forgiven easily enough as all part of the satisfying show. Why quibble when The Menu so earnestly aims to please.

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