I love food. I love fancy restaurants, too, while also being deeply uncomfortable with the potential for being seen as below those who dine there. So, a black comedy with horror elements taking place in an upscale restaurant certainly has appeal to me. Alas, The Menu was one of my most disappointing experiences at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Instead of being a devilish delight, this TIFF title just comes up a bit short. I was hungry for what this flick was offering up, but was left still hungry when all was said and done. At least the food looks delicious…
The Menu teases a much better movie than the one we get. Some of the shocking moments do shock, while some of the humor lands, but it does just coast along on the one note we expect from it. The frustration is that this film could have been one of the great modern black comedies/satires. Instead, it’s far too forgettable, considering its potential.
We meet Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her wealthy date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) as they’re about to travel to a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Why are they headed there for their date? Well, it’s to eat at Hawthorn, an incredibly exclusive restaurant. There, the reclusive and celebrated Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) prepares an orgasmic tasting menu for a select few special patrons a night. The front of house staff is led by general Elsa (Hong Chau), the host and first inkling that things might be a bit off at this joint.
Joining the couple at Hawthorn are repeat customers Anne (Judith Light) and Richard (Reed Birney), an unnamed middle-aged movie star (John Leguizamo) with his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her magazine editor Ted (Paul Adelstein), as well as tech bros Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr). Quickly, the evening goes off the rails, as each new course is served with increased tension, secrets being revealed, and even violence. The more it becomes clear what Slowik has planned, the more things break down, leading to a final course that’s truly memorable.
Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy lead an admittedly game cast. Fiennes is a mad scientist of a chef, delighting himself throughout, while Taylor-Joy does the best at hiding her motivations. Their scenes together crackle like bacon. They’re the highlights, pretty clearly. Among the supporting players, Nicholas Hoult has some great douchebag moments, while Hong Chau is a strong ice queen. Veterans like Reed Birney, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, and Janet McTeer are mostly wasted. Christina Brucato and Peter Grosz are also on hand, alongside the rest of those mentioned above.
Director Mark Mylod does his best to keep the tension in The Menu palpable. At the same time, the script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy lays so many of its cards on the table early on, forward momentum becomes an issue. The skewering of the rich is amusing, but also a little bit one note. The variety that should have been a staple here is instead a static one. We should have had a moving target, but that’s not the case here.
The Menu should have been up my alley. Instead, it’s one of the titles I’m most mixed on here in Toronto. The TIFF audience seems to be mostly behind this one, but it just didn’t work for me. I love a tasting menu, but this was closer to the sort of meal that you still are hungry for a snack after having eaten…