The Menu review: the Ralph Fiennes black comedy is deliciously good fun

The Menu sees Ralph Fiennes playing celebrity chef Julian Slowik and his gastronomical movie hits the spot

Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult leaning against a wall in The Menu
(Image: © Searchlight Pictures)

What to Watch Verdict

The Menu blends beautiful cinematography, tension, humor and will keep you guessing throughout, and the result is a movie you'll want to savor until the very end.

Pros

  • +

    You'll be rooting for Anya Taylor-Joy

  • +

    It's beautifully shot - especially the food!

  • +

    Perfectly mixes tension and humor

  • +

    Keeps you guessing

Cons

  • -

    nothing obvious!

With the gulf between the haves and have-nots getting deeper and wider by the month, it’s hardly a surprise that the entitled awfulness of the super-rich should currently be proving a rich topic for satire on big and small screens alike. Now, following in the well-shod footsteps of Succession and The White Lotus on TV and Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning Triangle of Sadness at the cinema comes the latest work to take sardonic aim at the one percent and their hangers-on, black comedy The Menu

"Tonight will be madness," promises Nicholas Hoult’s financially flush foodie Tyler to his beautiful date, Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, as they travel to a private island off the Pacific Northwest coast to sample the $1,250 a head tasting menu being offered by Ralph Fiennes’s celebrity chef, Julian Slowik, at his elite restaurant, The Hawthorn. 

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu

Julian Slowik has a very unique evening planned for his guests. (Image credit: Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures.)

Quite how mad the evening will turn out is something that will only slowly dawn on Tyler and Margot and their fellow diners, who include an egotistical restaurant critic (Janet McTeer) and her toadying editor (Paul Adelstein), a fading movie star looking for a new career as the host of a food and travel show (John Leguizamo), and his disaffected assistant (Aimee Carrero), a trio of boorish finance bros (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St Cyr); and a wealthy older couple (Reed Birney and Judith Light) who have already sampled Chef Slowik’s confections on multiple occasions but who appear to be here for the prestige rather than the food.

One of Chef Slowik's courses from The Menu

One of Slowik's exclusive treats. (Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Yes, the food. Initially, the target of the satire being served up by British director Mark Mylod (a veteran of Succession, Shameless, and a number of other TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic) and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy appears to be the fussy pretensions of high-end fine dining. The Hawthorn’s menu is the hautest of haute cuisine. And there are indeed generous helpings of comedy, with Hoult’s mansplaining know-it-all offering an excited running commentary as each course arrives with its finicky foams and gels. 

Behind the comedy, however, something darker is going on. The tasting notes with which Slowik introduces the dishes have a flavor of menace. So do the severe attentiveness of the restaurant’s enigmatic Maître d’ (Hong Chau) and the cult-like devotion of the kitchen staff. What exactly are they cooking up for their guests? "The game is trying to guess what the overarching theme of the meal is going to be," says Tyler. "You won’t know until the end."

Mylod turns up the heat as the meal progresses and the laughs give way to thriller-like tension. The person we are rooting for is Taylor-Joy’s skeptical non-foodie Elsa. As Slowik himself recognizes, she doesn’t belong with the ghastly other diners, all of them deserving objects of the film’s satire and scorn. These come with a deep streak of absurdity worthy of Luis Buñuel, and some sharp points about capitalist greed and the futility of trying to satisfy people who can’t be satisfied. On top of all this, the film’s photography is lip-smackingly beautiful. When the film is over, however, you are likely to be left longing for a far more humble type of gastronomy than any of Slowik’s precious creations.

The Menu is released in the US and UK on Friday, November 18.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.