Our review of satirical dark comedy-thriller ‘THE MENU’ has arrived! Watch it above or read it below…
The Menu is strong work: dark, humourous, with strong pacing, and fantastic performances from one talented ensemble.
It’s an enticing set-up: a couple (played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult), along with a number of wealthy and entitled individuals, head to an island to eat at an expensive and ultra-exclusive restaurant run by world-renowned chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Suffice it to say, what lies ahead for these customers is far from pleasant. If you’ve seen the marketing by now, you’ll have a taste of what’s to come, but I’m going to try and avoid revealing much in the way of plot. The film’s momentum, mostly in the first half, relies on the escalating turns and reveals, so it’s best you consume these dishes fresh.
The film is directed by Mark Mylod, whose feature credits include films such as Sacha Baron Cohen comedy Ali G Indahouse and rom-com What’s Your Number, as well as high-profile television fare such as Game of Thrones, Succession, and The Affair. With The Menu, Mylod cooks up a highly stylish satire that wonderfully balances thriller elements with some very funny and very dark comedy, all while serving up commentary on a number of issues.
Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy certainly know satire and tackling topical issues with comedy, considering they’re both among the minds behind the popular satirical news publication that is The Onion. Will Tracy’s credits also include Succession and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. So, these two clearly have things to say and know how to say it with dark humour. For the most part, they’ve got a cracking screenplay here – one that allows the great ensemble to immerse themselves into characters while serving an overall arc that’s the perfect canvas for commentary.
The film does, perhaps, reach a little high when it comes to just how much it wants to touch on. It points at capitalism, class warfare, the hospitality industry, elitism, artistic integrity, and more. It doesn’t ever feel like overkill, mind you, which is a great balancing act, but some bits of commentary seem as though they’re thrown in as sly tidbits for comedy’s sake, while other discussion pieces receive clear-cut platforms. Regardless, it’s a witty script, and one that – considering it’s mostly in one setting – is perfect for stage adaptations down the track.
An issue I did have with the narrative, and this didn’t hold the film back too much, is that the prospect of what exactly is going on is so intriguing and exciting that once all is made clear, there’s a slight feeling of having wanted a little more in the surprise box. This is something I felt more in retrospect. Once the credits had rolled and I had a little time to think about it (not too much time; I did want to get this review done asap), I felt like there was little in terms of reveals and shock after the overall plan is clarified. To be clear, I still enjoyed it a lot of it, and the pacing mostly continues strong, but still, it’s the type of film that has you expecting more on the twisty side of things. Well… in messing with my expectations… that could be a type of twist in itself.
And if you’re a foodie, prepare yourself for some hardcore food porn that will get that mouth watering. There’s some gorgeously-shot cuisine here. In fact, the entire film is visually impressive, with every shot oozing confidence and precise framing. Great work on display from cinematographer Peter Deming (Mulholland Drive, The Cabin in the Woods).
The recipe is, of course, far from complete without one of the film’s key ingredients: it’s fantastic ensemble. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to knock it out of the park. She gives another strong performance here, quickly placing us on her side in the midst of the unfolding craziness and saying as much with her silent stares as she does when it’s time to speak up. Nicholas Hoult is also great as her character’s oh-so slappable boyfriend, helping provide some of the first half’s most amusing moments.
But it’s Ralph Fiennes who really has command here. Fiennes is so unsettling and unhinged, even when he’s composed. There’s anger, sadness, frustration, disdain, often coming from an uncomfortable glare and the quivers of a lip. I don’t want to say too much about his character, but trust me, another superb performance from a screen great.
I had a great time with The Menu. It’s a deliciously dark comedy with a good amount to say. It’s well directed, well written, and has a cast nailing it every step of the way.
‘The Menu’ opens in US cinemas on November 18th and Australian cinemas on November 24th.