Mark Mylod’s The Menu is a treat for anybody who likes to invest all of their senses into the celluloid experience. The acting in this 2022 film is great and the plot is unique. The characters’ personalities and their interplay are delicious, and your eyes, ears and imagination are treated to a smorgasbord of cinematic comfort food. The result is a mesmerizing movie that – though certainly spicy – goes down smoothly and leaves you wanting more.
While the actors certainly command your attention when they’re front and center, because of the Robert Altman style of filming (and because everybody’s effectively in one big room), somebody’s always in the background coming to some unhappy recognition, plotting something, or resigning to their fate. The Menu is a modern-day masterpiece that invites the viewers to evaluate the scenario that unfolds before them and that will keep them guessing right up until Margot’s last sheepish question to Chef Slowik.
A trip to Hawthorne is advertised as a joyful culinary experience. Just like a New Years fitness challenge can help jumpstart your motivation for getting in shape, so Hawthorne’s maitre-d’ Elsa jumpstarts the motivation to think twice about the nature of a joyful experience. In fact, this particular trip is like an aperitif that might lead with the expectation of happiness but finishes with the souring notion of death.
Chef Slowik’s staff surround him like a broken emulsion. They are wholly driven by his cracked worldview and they bring militant precision and force, when needed, to bear on the situation. One of the things that puts the clients – and the audience – off-balance is the way the staff is only as forceful as they have to be. Whatever animosity exists between the servers and the takers, insistence on proper dinner service etiquette is a top-down directive and is satisfied with aplomb, if not charity.
Many moments showcase the staff’s esprit de corps. Throughout the entire film, they are busy. The chefs are feverishly working on the dishes, using Pacojets and deep fryers and pretty much every shiny thing in between. The sommelier cordially and knowledgeably pours the wine, providing diners with the best pairings and Elsa stalks the dining room floor like a mix between a profoundly dedicated maitre d’ and the Basilisk from Harry Potter.
The diners exist to inspire pathos in the audience, but it’s not purely negative. They aren’t all awful. They travel off the beaten path to Hawthorne to experience fine dining, at $1,250 per plate. The focus bounces from Tyler and Margot (the protagonist) to the critic and her toad, the rich, bored couple, and others.
There is a disparity among these diners, though only one is unexpected. Despite this, Chef Slowik insists that they all share the same fate. The only common denominator is that they’ve somehow become targeted by him because they have displeased him, but they don’t understand why.
Throughout the evening, the Chef uses the courses of the meal to make his points. One by one, the guests arrive at their understandings, which are amazingly both singular and collective. For all their individuality, they are effectively frogs put into the slowly boiling water. By the time they realize it’s reaching a boil, it’s become mighty hard for them to get out of it.
The Unapologetic Originality
Perhaps, when it comes to viewing The Menu, as Elsa hissed to Soren, ‘you will eat less than you desire, but more than you deserve.’ Is that what keeps cinephiles coming back to rave about this movie? It’s okay if you’re not sure, because, like dining, watching movies is as much a personal experience as it is communal. And like Soren, nobody besides Elsa (and maybe Chef Slowik) knows what she meant.
The Menu is a modern masterpiece because it eschews the formulaic traps that so many fall into. The actors, the plot, the dialog (much was ad-libbed), the music and, of course, the food, all work together to create an atmosphere that is at once playful and wicked, silly and psychotic, mundane and frantic. The Menu is a 3-star affair, to put it in Michelin terms, meaning that this movie is ‘worth a special journey’.