The setup for Mark Mylod's The Menu is simple yet delightful. Twelve customers get the chance to dine at the most exclusive restaurant in the world, Hawthorne. Located on a small, gorgeous island where all the food is grown or raised, the cost is high for this experience. The price means only exclusive foodies are getting this experience. On this particular night, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is serving a special meal, one laced with a sinister agenda.
The Menu runs with this premise, taking it into some hilarious, shocking, and deranged places. Mylod has created an odd mashup of food obsession, think Chef's Table, with a satirical horror comedy. It mostly works aside from a few stumbles here and there. This is thanks to a sharp script laced with biting humor and good jokes. The performances are also solid alongside a beautiful set design and striking cinematography.
The group of twelve guests includes nerdy foody Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his unexpected date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). There is an influential food critic (Janet McTeer), a has-been actor (John Leguizamo), a couple who are regulars at Hawthorne (Judith Light and Reed Birney), and a handful of others. None of these characters get much development but they don't need to, this is a satire after all and each guest represents a type. That is except for Margot. We learn early on that Chef Slowik has personally invited each guest, except for her. She was a last-minute replacement for Tyler's original date. Margot is not part of this world and she isn't impressed by the artsy-fartsy food being served. This immediately draws the Chef's attention.
I will keep the rest of the plot a secret as the twists and turns are the fun of the movie. I will say that the guests at Hawthorne are in danger and this is no ordinary meal. Laced throughout the film are jabs at high-end food. One of the best jokes comes around a "Breadless Bread Plate."
The first half of The Menu works so well that you can easily forgive that the film lags a bit once we know the game. There are a few scenes, one involving an outdoor break and another surrounding a mysterious silver door, that never pays off. Sure these moments are misfires but what carries you through them is the wonderful back-and-forth between Fiennes and Taylor-Joy. Fiennes is a perfect casting choice here. He relishes the chance to play a controlling, sinister chef. Taylor-Joy brings such intelligence to her role here. From the get-go, we are with her thanks to the way she sells Margot's cool detachment from the bourgeoisie.
The Menu is a fun, thrilling ride full of biting humor and twisted surprises. A few minor quips aside, this entertaining film is well worth your time. I laughed out loud several times, gasped once, and grinned through the entire film.