The Menu: Well timed commentary on the out of touch wealthy
Finally, The Menu dropped on HBO Max streaming. Since it’s November 2022 release in theaters I patiently waited to be able to watch it from home. Why would I choose to watch from home? So I could talk shit during my viewing of course.
The initial trailer for The Menu doesn’t bury the lead, it full stop tells us what to expect: a chef is going to torture his dinner guests, assuming due to their arrogant wealth, but one guest, our main character, Margot Mills played by Anya Taylor-Joy, puts a wrench in his plan when she attends unexpectedly and not so wealthy after-all. After watching I scratched my head and wondered, “since they told us the plot, what else is there to see?” but regardless based on the cast and set details alone I planned on watching.
It’s no secret that since 2020 the wealth disparity in our world, and more specifically the US, is out of control. According to Ineqaulity.org the “combined wealth of all U.S. billionaires increased by $2.947 trillion to $5.019 trillion between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to October of 2021. While some lost jobs, homes, loved ones, and futures, the most well off in our country almost doubled their net worth, which had already reached astronomical disparity from the rest of the country prior to the pandemic.
It is hard for us normies to wrap our heads around such obscene levels of wealth as well as such obscene and blatant wealth hoarding. Three men alone, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, “own as much as the bottom half of Americans” as far back as pre-pandemic times. Most of us have no idea outside of speculation how “the other half lives” and vice versa for their understanding of how normal people live (we only have to remind ourselves of the celeb “Imagine” scandal at the start of 2020).
The Menu takes us behind the curtain into how bizarre and unhinged those who can afford over $1,000 tickets to one dinner act and what they’ll put up with. Despite the staff doing odd and threatening things from start to finish all of the dinner guests aside from Margot believe it’s normal and part of this immersive dinner experience and the mystical menu by chef Julian Slowik, played expertly by Ralph Fiennes.
Slowik is the chef all of the dinner guests have come for, a celebrity in his own right, something of a Gordon Ramsey if Ramsey got really pretentious in his career. This elite, private dining experience is only accessible via boat, isolated from society. All of the food comes from the island itself and is grown, gathered, and prepared by loyal Slowik followers who also live on the island in cult-like quarters. They eat, sleep, breathe the menu and curate these dinners. This doesn’t appear as off as it should to the dinner guests however, as they tour the island and learn about Slowick’s set up prior to being seated at dinner.
To Margot and anyone watching this is a huge red flag worthy of keeping in the back of one’s mind. The red flags don’t stop there, the crew is precise to a fault, responding to Slowick’s loud, domineering claps with a resounding (and in union), “Yes Chef!” from wherever they are working. Slowick maintains a watchful eye over their work and the inner workings of the dinner guest’s relationships and conversations.
Every group (or pair) at this restaurant is there for a reason though, unbeknownst to them, that pertains to Chef Slowick’s attempts at a career finale of sorts. Without giving too much away each person has pissed him off, wronged him, or stands for something he believes took the integrity and passion out of his career.
One spoiler worth talking about being how he informs them of this detail that has seemed to slip their self-centered minds. During the main course, which the attending food critic points out is his signature tacos, comes with personalized, laser engraved tortilla shells in metal wraps.
Each table’s tortillas have images or symbols alluding to why they’re there tonight. For example, the group of finance-bros who work for a scummy business man that screwed over Sowlick receive tortillas with financial statements on them. The type of financial statements no one should have access to but them, that prove their illegal dealings.
This is the perfect way to inform the audience of the character’s connections to the chef without weirdly placed flashbacks or lame exposition. The character’s are for the most part multidimensional (aside from the finance bros) and interesting to learn about. While learning about them we see how they either unravel or adapt to this out of the norm scenario of being informed everyone will die tonight before dinner ends.
We have the rich older couple with an estranged daughter and an escort loving patriarch, the stan level obsessed Slowick fan played by Nicholas Hoult, the out of touch food critic played by Janet McTeer and her yes man lackey, Paul Adelstein. A washed up celebrity, John Leguizamo, with his clout chasing assistant, played by Aimee Carrero and of course the insufferable, elitist, classist finance bros: played by Rob Yang, Mark St. Cyr, and Arturo Castro.
Each a satirical representation of the wealthy elite that tortures us all with their flashy attempts at feeling fulfilled. One can only assume that the type of people who’d spend this much money on dinner and take a boat to a private island in order to have it probably aren’t of the most sound minds. This is shown to be apparent by the conversations that show what these people care about (nothing outside of themselves or their own wants and desires) and how they treat those they view as “beneath them” like the host, played by Hong Chau.
Hong Chau gives an excellent performance as someone who follows the Chef and aspires to be a dutiful disciple but also puts some of the dinner guests in their place. The character, Elsa, is not impressed or intimidated by the guest’s status which throws more than one of them off during the dinner. It’s a refreshing juxtaposition to the guests who often caused me to roll my eyes at their obscenity.
Once things hit a fever pitch and it becomes clearer to the guests that the odd occurrences of the night are not a part of some experimental dinner but in fact this cult carrying out their big suicide and murder plot they still do very little to save themselves. It’s a great overall show that people in positions like this have proven they often lack the fight to survive that comes with day in and day out reminders to be grateful for what you do have.
The various meal courses that become more dangerous and scary throughout the movie develop the various characters and their relations to one another. One big example being the dinner among the women guests and how they relate to and view one another as women but also with the intersectionality of class.
Characters I found to be insufferable at the start I found myself warmed up to by the end, to the point of being almost sad when the final moments of the night unfold and their fates are revealed. The ending makes sense and fulfills the film's promises in unexpected but interesting ways.
Despite feelings that not many things could be revealed that hadn’t been in the trailer I found myself pleasantly surprised at the level of attention and detail to this straightforward thriller. I found the funny moments landed excellently and despite a lack of gore I felt uncomfortable and tense based on the situations unfolding throughout. Not to mention, who doesn’t like a little “get out the guillotine” horror these days.
I highly recommend watching this movie, I myself plan on watching it a few more times just to see what details I missed the first go around. Well done and much applause to the director, Mark Mylod, and the excellent cast.