“The customer is always right, in matters of taste.”
– Marshall Field
Whether one is aware of it or not, there’s a subgenre of film called “Eat the Rich.” They can be horror films, comedies, dramas, anything really, with recent examples being either of the Knives Out series films, Ready or Not (2019), Hustlers (2019), and Joker (2019). In each of these, there’s an aspect of us-versus-them regarding the classes, with some literally being hunted (Ready), some just trying to get theirs (Hustlers), and some trying to burn the city down due to the disparity in access to basic human needs (Joker). Audiences may be split on how they feel about the films or the potential hypocrisy of the “rich” making films about the evil of the wealthy, but, especially in our current times when the wealth gap is growing exponentially larger, films like these, including the newly out on home video The Menu, do offer a reminder that the wealthy class only exists as long as we allow it. Thankfully, The Menu is a delicious treat from appetizer to dessert, balancing the sweet and savory to offer a unique experience that ultimately reminds audiences not to fuck with the people who serve you.
A group of 12 board a boat to head to the exclusive remote island of Hawthorne where Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) hosts a multi-course meal prepared using only the ingredients available within reach of the islands ecosystem. Among the guests are the critic who helped boost Slowik to fame and her magazine contact, a repeat guest and his wife, a trio of foodies that work for the same person that Slowik does, an out-of-the-spotlight movie star, and Slowik’s biggest fan who has brought a date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who could give two shits about the intellectual exercise Slowik and the kitchen at Hawthorne provide. This sense of class disconnect may be Margot’s single advantage when all the guests begin to realize that this may be the last meal they ever eat.
Though The Menu released in November and has been available both on digital and select streaming services since January 10th, this review will seek to keep things as spoiler-free as possible. Why? Because part of the fun of The Menu is seeing each course presented in order without interruption. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be the odd detail here and there, but a concerted effort will be made not to burn any surprises.
That said, writing a review about The Menu feels like something that would have me end up exactly where the guests in the film do. See, as the film reveals portion by portion, everyone that’s invited is in service of the meticulous and specific nature of Slowik’s smartly planned menu. Part of the script’s central theme is the frustration caused by those who evaluate, who consume, and who develop/perpetuate a system of those-who-can-have out of those who create. As someone who views and reviews more than 200 films a year, an argument can be made (and is made by some) that as I don’t make films, what business do I have in critiquing them? Tangentially, there are people who become so invested in a form of art that they convince themselves that the knowledge of how it works somehow trumps the ability to actually do it. I wrote and directed films in college and, let me tell you, I pray they never see the light of day. It’s hard work that no amount of my excitement in creating could turn my assignments into gold. I passed my courses, sure, but I learned that my skill is in analysis not creation. I also learned, and this might be my saving grace from Slowik’s sharp blades and sharper tongue, is I would never presume to know more than the artists who work on a set. This may seem like a tangent, but it’s directly connected to the ideas within screenwriters Seth Reiss’s (Comedy Bang! Bang!) and Will Tracy’s (Succession) script, wherein the guests believe that they hold the cards, allowed to treat the staff and the food any way they see fit, simply because they paid to be there. The guests, save for Margot, presume a place of superiority because they can afford to be there (or were personally invited), never once thinking that the experience they are to have should result in treating those who are serving them with a modicum of humanity. Thus, like the Le Domas (Ready or Not) or the disruptors (Glass Onion), by perceiving themselves as above interpersonal respect, even amongst those they proclaim to love, the audience enjoys the greatest pleasure at their torturous discomfort.
There’s another side to The Menu that’s fascinating and it’s the notion that, when someone is pushed to the limits of their profession, they may look back and see only the carnage they created or helped to create. With so much of Slowik’s success being in the precision, the details, of each meal down to ensure that they don’t get full over a several-course meal, the pressure to achieve over and again must be daunting to manage. Thus, Hawthorne becomes a cultivated ecosystem, one in which Slowik must maintain balance in order to continue to rise. But what happens to a person when they look back and don’t see joy, pleasure, or even the balance they sought to sustain? You end up with someone whose regrets calcify, whose heart hardens, who sees the interconnected nature of selfishness that his clients, the ones who enjoy it the least yet continually feast upon his creations simply for the clout, possessed with his own drive. Suddenly, drive turns to self-loathing which turns to vengeance of a sort. Credit to Reiss and Tracy that even Slowik himself isn’t immune to his failures nor is he a hypocrite (see course: Man’s Folley).
Speaking as someone who’s worked in various retail gigs (cashier, stocker, store room, sales floor, waiter, and runner), a customer who speaks their mind with respect will always get the better service over someone who offers a facsimile of kindness. This is why the relationship, as it were, between Slowik and Margot is as believable as it becomes. Slowik responds to her frankness because of where it comes from, not because he believes his word is law (up to a point), but because, unlike the patrons who presume they are right because they are the clients, she understands that the client is always right when it comes to matters of taste. This is, of course, something that proves to be an advantage, leading to a moment that is more likely to make the audience more famished than any other dish served in the whole film. The service industry as a whole has received the shortest end of the stick for centuries, as those who pay for services often feel they are owed more than the price paid. It’s this belief that leads to an absence of respect due to a perceived lack of humanity. To make matters worse, there are those who think because they have an opinion and an audience, their untrained thoughts are somehow more valid than those of workers in the industry (see: several of the guests at Hawthorne).
Moving onto the home release portion, this review is based on a digital copy provided by Searchlight Pictures. As such, I can’t speak to what materials are included on-disc, but there is a 17-minute featurette comprised of three parts (or courses, as they are described) in which the home-viewing audience is taken through the development of the dishes and appropriate staging on-camera; the training that the cast received in order to make things as believable as possible; and the mechanics of the dessert course. There are also three very brief deleted scenes. There is a notion on the press release that these bonus features may vary by retailer and, at minimum, there’s no difference between the digital iTunes copy and the digital MoviesAnywhere copy. Whether this remains the same for the Blu-ray or DVD, that is unclear. Of all the things not to be included, I would’ve loved to see some outtakes as this cast must’ve had a ball together, and the difficulty in being as sincere as they needed to be always must’ve resulted in some delightful flubs.
Even when the script doesn’t maintain the tension it so wishes and provides one moment where things don’t entirely add up, there is a fantastic ensemble to pick up the slack. Fiennes is commanding, Taylor-Joy arresting, Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road) fiendish, and Hong Chau (The Whale) disquieting; each one tailor-made for their roles, each one perfectly positioned in each moment of the film. This doesn’t even account for the smaller, yet significant notes that the rest of the ensemble (Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, Arturo Castro, Peter Grosz) provide. In these final moments of this home release review, please allow for one major complaint: there’s no 4K UHD edition of this release. The photography on the dishes alone, the little humorous cutaways that they are, would positively shine in a 4K UHD home presentation. Yes, it is a matter of taste, and I would like that, please and thank you.
The Menu Special Features*:
- Open Kitchen: A Look Inside The Menu – Feast on the special ingredients of The Menu to see how director Mark Mylod and his formidable cast, the biting script and renowned chef consultants concocted the perfect recipe to bring authenticity and dark humor to the film’s high-end culinary world. (17:22)
- First Course: Take a seat at the table as director Mark Mylod delves into some of the key ingredients that went into crafting The Menu. Meet the renowned chefs and food stylists who brought their culinary expertise to the set. (6:02)
- Second Course: Savor the world-building of Hawthorn, from kitchen “boot camp,” to the meticulous details of the production design. Hear from the cast and writers about the director’s naturalistic approach to capturing the nuances of the performances. (6:56)
- Dessert: Dig into the creation of the s’mores sequence as costume designer Amy Westcott explains the painstaking process of sewing ponchos made of actual marshmallows. The cast discusses chocolate hats and the absurd predicament of their characters. (4:31)
- Three (3) Deleted Scenes (5:01)
*Bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on digital-to-own January 3rd, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD January 17th, 2023.
For more information, head to Searchlight Pictures’s The Menu webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming
I’m truly almost afraid to watch this. I might never eat in a restaurant again!
As someone who doesn’t do well with horror films that are excessively violent, I can confirm that it’s nothing that may put you off in a restaurant. This is a very specific sort of gathering.
I saw a short film like that. It was entered into a film festival I got roped in to judging. It was funny despite being gross. I can do thriller just not slasher.
This one, not gross, luckily! Actually, it’s quite beautiful.
I might give it a chance then. Such a good cast.