‘The Menu’ Is Overcooked

During the 1970s and 1980s as fast food franchises became more popular, restaurants had to have more to offer than just food. As Mike Judge said in Office Space, “People can get a cheeseburger anywhere,” but what they’re looking for is “atmosphere and attitude.” Sports bar restaurants became popular. And then you had Hooters and Twin Peaks, which offer their patrons the eye candy of the waitresses.

And as demonstrated in American Psycho, restaurants, not just in New York City, became popular hotspots even if the cheesebuger costs $50. Watching that movie, you can tell people were more interested in getting reservations to these locations where they could be send by other people eating exotic foods that costs a lot of money. What some families spend a week or even a month on the grocery bill these people were spending on just one person. As Carrie Fisher’s chararacter mentioned a quote in When Harry Met Sally that “Restaurants are to people in the 80s what theatres were to people in the 60s.”

And then there was a rise in culinary arts and TV shows became more popular as the spread of cable TV shows and satellite TV. The Internet made celebrities as people traded recipes. Martha Stewart, Paula Dean, Rachel Ray are just a few who becamde popular along with Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. And they’re making appetizers, entrees and desserts that are very expensive. But the more expensive it is, the better it should be? Right? Not exactly. Milk-fed veal and goatcheese pizza just sound exotic. It’s like sushi. I think people just like it because other people don’t like it.

The Menu is intended as a dark comedy horror that is a satire of the restaurant scene, but it becomes much ado about about nothing, like most of the restaurants and chefs it’s supposed to be parodying. The problem is the movie comes after several other movies have come before it that you’re wondering what’s going to happen and thus are let down. Does it involve cannibalism? Is this a cult ritual we’re watching?

Hulu released Fresh in which Sebastian Stan plays a man who kidnaps women to turn them into a delicacy for the highest bidders. And The Menu reminds me a lot of that movie. It wants to have it both ways. But with a bigger budget. However there is no indication in the movie that there is cannibalism. We are dealing with a cult but it’s more about celebrity culture.

Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is a well-regarded celebrity chef who invites several people to his private island to eat at Hawthorn, an exclusive restaurant. Elsa (Hong Chau), the restaurant’s maitre d, gives them a tour around the island and it’s revealed all the staff sleep in the same quarters similiar to a military barracks or cult. She also shows them a building that is Julian’s private quarters as well as a smokehouse where they keep meats for a specific time. Most of the invited are more or less unimpressed because they represent the elite.

There’s Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), a food critic and her editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein), wealthy agining couple Richard and Anne Leibrand (Reed Birney and Judith Light), washed-up actor only referred to as George (John Leguizamo) and his assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero), business partners Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (Rob Yang) and finally Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who aspires to be just like Julian. His dinner date is Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy), who Elsa notices wasn’t his designated dinner date. Tyler explains that when he has since broken up with who he told her and Margot is who he is currently with.

However, it becomes apparant very early, that Margot is different from the others. And she’s not really in a relationship with Tyler, but she’s a paid escort to accompany him to Hawthorn. Richard seems to recognize her and there’s a hint that he has been unfaithful to Anne with a lot of women including Margot. But as they take their seats at the restaurant, the dinner goes from pleasant to awkward to a horror show very quickly. Also in attendance is Julian’s alcoholic mother, Linda (Rebecca Koon), who spends most of the night sipping from a wine glass.

Fiennes seems to have a lot of fun with the role at the beginning. He rambles on with each course mentioning stuff that he probably memorized off a Wikipedia page. He’s a representation of someone who thinks he’s better than what he really is. He commands his staff to only speak when spoken to and they all respond in a military-style unison when he asks them questions. During one of the few funny moments, Margot discovers a silly picture of him in his youth with a goofy grin with a hamburger patty on a spatula and a “Kiss the Cook” shirt.

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are credited as two of the producers and this feels like an SNL skit that was expanded too much into a feature movie. This is Mark Mylod’s first feature movie in over a decade after directing TV shows like Entourage, Game of Thrones and Succession. The joke runs cold within the first 30 minutes. And even when it takes a more sinister turn, it feels like they didn’t know what to do. At one point, for absolutely no reason except to drag out the run time a little longer, it turns into “The Most Dangerous Game” where all male diners are told to run and hide on the island where they are quickly found by the staff. I mean, it literally makes no motherfucking sense.

And then there’s some other twists and turns that you probably could see coming. People are not who they say they are. We learn some things about people that are obvous. But what is most disappointing is that we don’t care one single bit about the diners and what happens to them including Margot and Tyler. Hoult is so underused that Tyler could have been played just by any character actor. It’s a bait-and-switch for us to think he’s going to be a bigger character than what he is. And Taylor-Joy isn’t all that much of a character either.

Chau does a good role as the creepy syocphantic assistant who worships Julian, but in the second half, her characters goes off the rails so outrageously. And the same can be said for the entire movie, it has a wonderful set-up, but when you realize what’s happening, you groan in displeasure. How many more of these movies can Hollywood church out thinking they are being provacative? Considering that Glass Onion takes a more biting mockery of celebrity culture, it’s a shame this movie falls apart so fast. The absurdity of the movie’s ending has unintentional laughs.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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