A Yelp review of “The Menu”

Mia Hambrick

In the spirit of a new years resolution, I began 2023 with a very sustainable goal of watching more movies; the first of which was the newly streaming movie: “The Menu.”
I was introduced to Mark Mylod’s newest film through TikTok (of course), and in classic TikTok fashion, the fanfare did the actual movie too much justice.
The now-streaming “horror satire” rests almost entirely on the shoulders of “The Queen’s Gambit” star Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays the mysterious, angsty lead Margot, a Wattpad-ishly cliche “bad-girl.”
As the movie begins, it seems Margot has secured an evening at the exclusive restaurant Hawthrone via invitation from her self-proclaimed foodie boyfriend, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult).
The pair’s evening is jump-started with a boat ride to the island where Hawthorne is located; viewers are first hinted that something is amiss when Tyler chastises Margot for smoking before they board, lecturing: “It will ruin your palate.”
Though not entirely obvious, there is (supposedly) a takeaway from this interaction:
Margot smokes.
This may seem obvious, but in typical Hollywood rhetoric, Margot’s smoking is a testament to stress; and is further considered impolite given the 036;1,000+ admission charge (per head, mind you) to the restaurant. And if there’s one thing we know about the upper class? It’s that they all are fundamentally above nicotine addictions–at least, that’s what Mr. Mylod is telling the audience.
With that said, Margot is obviously an outcast among the VIP customer section, and the audience comes to find out that Tyler hired her as an escort when his original date fell through.
Upon their arrival, the staff quickly realizes that Margot is not the anticipated guest and wastes little time proceeding to interrogate her. Even despite her mysterious and guarded demeanor, Margot wastes no time sharing the details of her real identity, therefore clarifying the root of the problem: Margot is not an uppity, entitled member of the upper class, undermining head Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) master plan to massacre all of the people on the island. Margot is a deviation in Slowik’s carefully selected “menu” of people he determined worthy of extermination. And so, in whatever sort of half-baked attempt at morality you’d call it, Slowik allows Margot 10 minutes to choose whether she’ll keep masquerading with the rich or join the workers in the kitchen. The catch is, she’ll die either way. So who really cares?
Apparently, Margot does, and in full embrace of her tough roots, she chooses to spend her final hours alive completing excruciating tasks for seemingly no reason other than to say she’s not “one of them.”
From a critical standpoint, one of the biggest faults of this movie is probably the characters– it seems like there was thoughtful intent at the beginning, but as time went on, loose ends were instead hastily tied for the sake of completion.
Stronger characters like Tyler, the self-proclaimed foodie, and Lillian (Janet McTeer), the restaurant critic, were all well-rounded in their unpleasantness. Both had very few redeemable qualities, and both seemed to be taken straight out of everyday encounters, yet the same could not be said about other characters.
An example of this disparity can be seen when directly comparing characters. For example, the self-assured Lillian seems to believe that the series of horrific events taking place are solely for her benefit and enjoyment. She assumes that each escalating tragedy is merely a theatrical attempt to gain her praise.
Call it coping or misguided rationalization, but Lillian’s dismissal of tragedy as a personalized entertainment makes her utterly unlikable, accentuating the greed and selfishness that Mylod’s film condemns, and for those reasons, Lillian is a great character. She generates an emotional reaction from the audience (frustration, disgust), she is believably realistic, and she reinforces the major themes of the movie. On the other hand, there are characters like Felicity (Aimee Carrero), who is the assistant to an irrelevant actor, simply referred to as a “movie star.” Case closed.
In all seriousness, Felicity’s character adds little to the plot aside from distracting commentary and very few and far between bits of character history. All we really know about her is that she’s quitting her job, and planned the evening’s dining experience as a way to soften the blow to her boss, “movie star.”
When Felicity questions why she is being “punished,” Chef Slowik has no real reason at first.
Yet, in a moment of raw and critical character revelation, Slowik asks Felicity where she graduated (she went to Brown) follows up by asking if she has student loans, to which she responds negatively. In Slowik’s book, this is reason enough for burning someone alive— which honestly, fair enough, that is totally absurd– that’s his big plan: making everyone into s’mores. Literally. He sets the whole place on fire, calling it “the final course.”
This conceptually aligns with the movie’s overarching criticism of the unrightfully privileged, but Mylod’s choice to include the questioning of probable cause just emphasizes the lack of basis. Perhaps that is the entire point–to show that there is a fault in his reasoning or the self-righteousness of it all; however, I’d argue it reads as counterintuitive to the principles that are otherwise fundamental to the film’s plot.
One could say that the contrast in probable cause for each character’s death is to accentuate the absurdity of it all; and while, yes, there are many great films that challenge the status quo of perception and relativity, this movie certainly isn’t one of them. It makes very little attempt at any genuine sophistication.
Although The Menu incorporates comedic criticism of the “fine dining” industry, it can be difficult to discern the film’s tone throughout the movie; Instead, you spend a lot of time trying to decipher whether they are trying to make a point, or it’s all just a big joke. It seems to me that the greatest moral dilemma in this movie was between the movie and itself. The whole thing was kind of like when your friend cracks a dark joke, laughs, looks glumly into space, and then laughs again. You have to ask yourself, is this performative? Are they kidding? Or are they trying to tell us something? When it comes down to it, nobody wants to ask, because it seems like it should be obvious, and I found that to be the case with this movie.
Again, I know, “But Mia, isn’t that the whole point of satire?” to which I respond: “Sure, but watch the movie and tell me if you think it’s self-aware enough to really do that.”
The movie itself is not a total failure–In fact, I thought it made several memorable points, the underside is that it leaves you questioning if any of those points were intentional, if there was even a point at all. In a way, I think the movie preaches to its audience the way only good satires do so well; yet it’s downfall is in it’s blurred lines between comedy and commentary.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is 2 stars. The food was weird. The staff was weird. Left the restaurant famished. Wouldn’t eat here again.