Written by: Hannah Tran | November 18th, 2022
The Menu (Mark Mylod, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
The Menu is far from the first movie in recent memory to mount a takedown of the rich. Focused on a mysterious young woman who is invited to a secluded island for dinner at an acclaimed chef’s highly exclusive molecular gastronomy restaurant, its premise is certainly an intriguing angle to take on this subject matter. But while it offers a finely cultivated atmosphere, The Menu ultimately fails at finding its own distinct flavor. Although thematically reminiscent of Ruben Östlund’s recent Triangle of Sadness and features stylistic notes similar to Ari Aster’s Midsommar, the former film verbalizes a more elegant argument in a third of its runtime and the latter hosts the well-developed characters that The Menu so desperately is in need of.
Once the intrigue of the setup is over, the intrigue of the story diminishes. While it’s technically billed as a dark-comedy horror, its final hour only delivers a few good laughs and even fewer good scares. This problem seems to be rooted in a screenplay that isn’t entirely sure whether or not it should take itself seriously. Thus, it feels neither offensive enough nor emotionally invested enough to make a real impression.
The central character in particular feels paper-thin, and this isn’t helped by an overall flat performance from Anya Taylor-Joy (The Northman). Her general passivity makes the overarching story lack a sense of progress and makes the ending feel unearned. Nicholas Hoult (True History of the Kelly Gang) gives one of his weakest performances in his cartoonish portrayal of her date. Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes (No Time to Die) and Hong Chau (The Whale), as the chef and his restaurant captain. seem to have the most unified vision of the tone of the film, even if it is somewhat theatrical, and both elevate the material by making it funnier than it is on the page.
The setting and design of The Menu, on the other hand, is by far the most engaging element at work. The island is carefully mapped, and the sets are as intricately designed as the courses of food. The score, which was composed by Colin Stetson (Color Out of Space), also serves as an immersive backdrop to these spaces. Moreover, the meals themselves are where much of the screenplay’s playfulness and creativity lie. That said, the presentation of the food is frustratingly inconsistent in style and perspective.
While not a complete loss in terms of ideas and tone, The Menu has a hard time finding anything original or genuine to add to the conversation about class. Its initial shock factor wears out far too quickly, and its unoriginal characters are left with a fate that is less than satisfying.