If you’re someone who considers themselves a foodie (and I totally am), chances are there was a time in the past few years when you had The Awakening. The waiter may have described the veal marrow with whipped foam, served with New Zealand baby lettuce. It may have been when you were eating the red snapper that was half-cooked, like a rare steak, and you thought, “I like sushi, I like cooked fish, but I’m not sure this one is really the best of both worlds.” It may have been when you saw the bill.
Whatever the trigger, that was the moment you looked up from your plate and realized that high-end foodie culture has become a serious annoyance. It has become too picky, too expensive, too full of itself not filling (of yourself), too avant-garde and conceptual, too tied to The Salvation of the Planet, too much of an ordeal. Did I mention too expensive? It used to be that if you wanted to ridicule culinary mania, you mocked someone like Guy Fieri. But he’s risen from the ashes of infamy to a sort of born-again respectability (and yes, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” was always a great show). Now if you’re looking to ridicule the culinary frenzy, restaurants like The French Laundry in Napa Valley or Bros’ in southern Italy are the most natural targets, places where the 12-course “tasting menu” can inspire you to think, such as a blogger said it, that “nothing comes close to a real meal.”
That’s the foodie culture that ‘goes on and skewers, slicing and dicing with a hilariously shocking thriller zest. Most of it takes place within the metallic outline of a lofty designer restaurant, a temple of haute cuisine called Hawthorne, which is special enough to stand on its own island: Hawthorne Island, a 12-acre destination where the rich, the famous and the pretentious pay $1,250 per head to sample the ever-changing tasting menu curated by Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). He’s a stern kitchen guru who’s at once a bloated artist, a drill sergeant of his army of cooks (who work in an open kitchen just outside diners), and an aggro-foodie cult leader, introducing each course with a resounding slap and a monologue that explains its meaning. “Don’t eat,” he tells the guests. “Taste.” But the incentive to taste without eating is a chef’s form of narcissism. He is such a legend in his own mind that he has forgotten what food is for.
“The Menu” is a black comedy, but played to the bone. And the is a thriller, because after a while what is served shifts from pretentious to dangerous. Even the danger becomes a form of snobbery: The food is so important. But the tasty joke of “The Menu” is that the food doesn’t matter at all. The food is an abstraction, and ideaall generated to fulfill some above average idea of perfection that has little to do with sustenance or pleasure and everything to do with the vanity of those who create the food and those who consume it.
The latter, in this case, are an ensemble of dinner victims who are just as full of theatrical flaws as the characters in a “Knives Out” movie. That’s why the knives are after them. They get what they deserve just by coming to this restaurant, by dreaming of believing that this is the meal they deserve because that’s how cool and affluent and elite they are.
Tyler (Nichols Hoult), a devoted foodie nerd, already knows he will love anything served. He’d brought in a date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who isn’t nearly as interested in it—in fact, she’s turning into the cynically level-headed, ordinary public representative who sees through all the puffers on display. Lillian (Janet McTeer), a food critic, takes pride in writing the kind of reviews that shut restaurants down, so we know she’s going to get her dessert. There’s also a trio of tech bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Paul Adelstein) who, along with the three of them, incarnate every taste of unpleasant. And there’s a beloved but fading movie star, played by John Leguizamo, along with his assistant (Aimee Carrero), who uses dinner as a pretext to say goodbye to him.
“The menu” is divided into courses, with each dish and its ingredients listed on the screen, and for a while the film is content to satirize the food. The first dish features foam (a tip that it won’t melt in your mouth so much as it will evaporate before you can enjoy it). And that’s the sober dish. Each subsequent one represents more and more a deconstruction of food as we know it. Chef Slowik is a deranged gastronomy scientist who has reduced the essence of cooking to a glorified laboratory experiment. The diners are his guinea pigs, which may be why he harbors a thinly veiled disdain for them. It turns out that the menu he devised has been arranged down to the last detail all from them to get what they deserve, as if this were the Michelin star version of “Saw”.
The director, Mark Mylo, is a British television veteran who has bad heads (he directed 13 episodes of “Succession”) and shows them here. His staging is sharp, elegant, icy in the best way. And the script, by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy (veterans of Seth Meyers, John Oliver, and the “Onion” TV series), never stops humming with observation, even as it enters an over-the-top realm splattered with blood. , which turns the film into a twisted version of theater of the absurd.
All the actors are nice, but the two lead actors (sorry, I can’t resist) are so good they are delightful. Ralph Fiennes plays the art chef from hell as a high fascist of snobbery, as if his mission — to make food to enjoy but somehow too delicious to eat — glorified and tormented him at the same time. . And Anya Taylor-Joy, as the client who has his number, cuts through it all with a sparkle that grows more and more disdainful as she puts together the big picture of what’s going on: that the decadent aristocratic superiority of it all makes the whole point. . The grand finale is bitingly funny, as Chef Slowik deconstructs the ultimate junk food – the smore, a “damned monstrosity” that will cleanse everything with its fire. “The Menu” says the problem with what high-end cuisine has evolved is that it’s grown too far apart from the low-end, leaving nothing in between. As divine as the food is, you will eventually starve to death.