The Menu: a sharp, black comedy served well done

No, it's not an attack on fine dining, just the culture surrounding the finer things in life.

by Justin Choo

What happens to an artist when he loses his purpose? What happens when love fades into obsession?

The artist and the patron form perhaps one of the most fascinating symbiotic–or mutually parasitic–relationships that exist in society. And this is the core of The Menu, a black comedy that places fine dining culture in the crosshairs of this love-hate relationship.

The consummate artist needs a customer affluent enough to afford the ever-escalating costs of crafting perfection for a discerning diner. However, that individual is usually never the patron who can afford it.

All the man wants to do is cook, man.

Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is an obsessive chef that runs Hawthorn, an exclusive restaurant located on a remote island because that’s (probably) what madmen do (if you ever gave them conceptual carte blanche) in their never-ending quest for purity in their work. He has a special menu–one that he regards as his finest–for his guests for the evening.

On arrival, the guests are treated to the perfect balance of professional pride and disdain (also professional, nothing personal) from the staff as they prepare for the ultimate gastronomic experience. And that’s the tone of the comedy here–a little schadenfreude for the real-life walking clichés that grinds your social gears.

Despite the meticulous preparation, they did not account for Netflix’s original wide-eyed siren, Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Margot. Margot is accompanying her date, the food and social media-obsessed Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to his long-awaited visit to Hawthorn, and has to deal with his cringe.

Margot plays the Audience Surrogate role albeit with a lot more smarts.

Margot stands alone as an outsider, her worldview providing the jarring reality check. “We have reached the base camp of mount bullsh**; this is insane,” she quips offhandedly, and she could not be more on point. Base camp is getting swamped by simps clamouring to be King Sh** of F*** Mountain as Slowik’s favoured guests one way or another.

In many ways, The Menu operates like the establishment that it mercilessly mocks and it’s delightfully ironic; humourless and heavy-handed, yet ruthlessly efficient in its delivery, to the point that even the characters are nothing more than the caricatures that they needed to be–and therein lies the guilty pleasure of its darkness. Nothing too gratuitous apart from its savage roast of fine dining culture, which is tastefully done, of course.

The look of a man who’s starting to rediscover joy (no, not Anya Taylor-Joy).

The Menu is also blessed with stellar performances from Fiennes, Hoult, and Hong Chau, who plays Slowik’s work-wife, Elsa. Janet McTeer nails the unintentionally insufferable food critic vibe as Lillian, while Judith Light is low-key brilliant as the long-suffering wife Anne, speaking volumes with criminally little screen time. Taylor-Joy has clearly found her niche, and her intensity is just what the doctor ordered.

It has to be said that The Menu is a pointed dig at the class-driven, consumerist circus surrounding the finer things in life and not an attack on fine dining per se. What’s unexpected is the somewhat sympathetic depiction of those who get caught up in the throes of this toxic, close-knit circle jerk, which isn’t an exclusive domain of the wealthy. Those who fall out of love may rediscover their spark, but victims are victims if they remain caught up in traps of their own design. And it’s poignant that, like in many abusive relationships, they choose to stay for just desserts.

  • 8/10
    The Menu - 8/10

The Menu

In skewering the excesses of affluence, The Menu serves up a delightfully dark serving of comeuppance–and then you realise that we are all complicit in some way. I feel attacked.

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