From the moment that comedy thriller The Menu starts, I knew that, as a food person, I was about to be dragged. Like, hard. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) scolds his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) for smoking a cigarette ahead of dinner, saying it will destroy her palate for the $1,250-per-person meal they’re about to eat. Later, when the first tasting arrives, he slaps her hand away so that his phone’s camera can eat first and then describes its “mouthfeel.” The film is filled with shots that could be straight out of “Chef’s Table.” Executive chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) introduces a course by encouraging everyone to not eat, but to taste.
You don’t need to be enmeshed in restaurant and food culture to have a good time watching this satire on cooking as theater, which will debut on Friday, Nov. 18. But man, if you are, you will delight in every detail—whether you engage in fine dining culture as a diner or as a restaurateur. Ugh, I also demand that the camera eat first. I do unironically think about “mouthfeel.” Watching The Menu is like seeing a particularly precise post on food culture from The Onion or Reductress that absolutely nails you.
The film follows one evening at Hawthorn, an exclusive restaurant on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Each of the 12 diners represents a stereotype that’s common at fine dining restaurants. A trio of finance bros with barely a passing interest in the food itself gets disparagingly described as going for a “power tasting,” i.e. eating at a renowned place for the status alone. A longtime dining critic attends with her magazine editor, all the while workshopping the correct obscure, pretentious word to describe each bite. Then there’s the food obsessive Tyler, who monologues about why Slowik is akin to a god.
But the protagonist of the film is his date Margot, a last-minute addition to the meal who’s oblivious to the norms of a restaurant like this. While the rest of the dining room slowly attunes to the fact that this dinner may not be like others, she is perturbed from the beginning. Why, for instance, does an oyster need to be dressed up with foam anyway? And no, she will not be eating the “breadless bread course,” a platter that features accouterments that should go with bread, but no bread itself. (It’s a joke that becomes more delicious once you’ve reached the end of the film.) Tyler is aghast that she refuses to participate, and worse, that she suggests sending a course back. Eventually, though, nobody in the room is okay with what they’re served—commitment to trusting the chef be damned.
The Menu is billed as a horror—restaurant staff hunt down diners and violence is definitely part of the meal. But you won’t find many jumpscares or other hallmarks of the genre. The movie’s made by a team that’s known for comedic chops and skewering rich people on screen: writers Will Tracy (Succession) and Seth Reiss (Late Night with Seth Meyers), director Mark Mylod (Succession), and producers Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, and Will Ferrell (Don’t Look Up, Vice, Succession). Frankly, despite the film’s bloodiness, I found it less stressful than the FX series The Bear, another piece of pop culture this year that explores the dark side of fine dining culture. The Menu is kind of just a fun time.