The Menu may be one of the best eat-the-rich films of the 2020s.
Published on November 22, 2022
Rating 4.5 /5
Savory and savage, The Menu is a class divide tale with a razor-sharp tongue. It’s a film that makes its intentions clear through the spendy entertainment of gourmet cooking. For the elite foodies that find themselves flocking to the dishes of Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), they’re about to get a dark lesson in their pompousness through a language they may speak best: fine dining. You can sense this viciousness immediately and the wait to see how long the theme becomes apparent for the guests becomes exciting.
The guests invited to Julian’s darkest five-course meal on a remote island are certainly all worthy of some punishment, ranging from annoying to systemically evil. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is a foodie who is more eager to post his food than eat it. Lillian (Janet McTeer) is a food critic who has done more damage to restaurants with her snobby reviews. George (John Leguizamo) is just a washed-up actor who made terrible movies. Yes, Julian is petty enough that he’s going to kill off bad actors. That being said, he’s also invited a corrupt politician and some executives involved in illegal trade so there’s a mixed bag of targets, albeit all of them are rich and giving little emotional thought to others. The only one who is not a rich elite among them who cheats for success is Tyler’s girlfriend Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). She represents a wild card who may or may not become a target on this deadly night.
Much like the food present in the narrative, the presentation is a darkly decadent delight. Julian’s menu proceeds with a mindful introduction and hilarious typography to highlight certain dishes. Sometimes the dishes are served up with irony about the world when a bread dish comes with no bread dish. Sometimes it’s a literal message when tortillas come printed with revealing information about the guests. Sometimes there’s a murder accompanying the menu item. The food-based journey continues with a cold and cutthroat nature, best showcased in how Julian’s right-hand associate Elsa (Hong Chau) maintains a frightening calm, and stern demeanor. The violence also comes across as incredibly shocking for the small frequency with bold results. Scenes of throats being stabbed or fingers being cut off are quite brutal.
The performances are stellar for the entire ensemble. Fiennes knows how to command a room with his powerful voice that easily transitions between charming host and terrifying killer. You can hardly take your eyes off him when trying to figure out what horrifying stunt he’ll be pulling off for the next dish. Taylor-Joy, looking absolutely stunning, is worth rooting for as the outsider just trying to avoid the carnage that will come from this disillusioned celebrity chef. Hoult is hilarious as an eager fan so accepting of Julian’s nature that he plays along with every death right up to his own humiliation. If there’s one actor who steals the show, however, it’s gotta be Chau who is given a meaty role with conflicting intentions.
The dark humor comes in more ways than one for this bitter commentary on the egotism of the elite. Everything from the elaborate stagings of poetic deaths to vicious dialogue is amazingly provocative. The way that Julian finds ways to eviscerate his power relations is clever, where all it takes is a few seething words to get one of his guests to off himself. Proper credit needs to be given to the script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy who loads this film up with hilariously piercing dialogue about prostitution, affairs, fame, and even college preference is delivered with real edge and fun. I particularly dug into how bitter Julian becomes when quickly explaining why he’s going to kill one woman who went to Brown with no student loans she has to pay off.
The Menu may be one of the best eat-the-rich films of the 2020s. It touches not just on brutalizing the haves over the have-nots, but on the emptiness that comes when the rich try to change systemic horrors. The nihilism explored through Julian’s desperation for simpler times is as understandable in his motivations as it is terrifying for how he proceeds. Also, without spoiling the ending, let’s just say it satisfies the appetite.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.