The Menu is a film that exudes extreme intensity from the outset, even before Ralph Fiennes’ captivating portrayal of Chef Slowik, whose kitchen timer relentlessly ticks as things escalate further. Todd Weaver’s intricate mix of soundscape adds to the banquet of the film, which is best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible. Even within the film’s runtime, the less you know, the more flavorsome the experience. While the appetizer is fiendishly appetizing, the main course is reasonably unsavory, and the dessert threatens to leave diners wanting, as the sweet taste of vengeance remains elusive.

The creative team behind The Menu has a connection to Jesse Armstrong’s Succession, and it’s no surprise that the film takes aim at the privilege and pomposity of the wealthy. What starts as a sharp satire of ultra-fine dining quickly turns into a scathing attack on the entitled 1% who buy into its world. This shift is a deliberate and critical element of Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s script, and Mark Mylod’s direction is unapologetically on the nose. Perhaps this is an ironic pauper’s jibe in princely dressing.

In a sea of exaggerated characters, Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is the only one who seems to have a grip on reality. She arrives at the event with Tyler, portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, who is becoming increasingly insufferable but is just a pawn in the group of fanatics surrounding Fiennes’ Slowik. Slowik has a messianic presence in a setting deliberately infused with religious references, as evidenced by his guest list of twelve and his second course, a bread-less bread platter. Slowik explains that bread is for the common man, and these guests are anything but common. Despite the symbolism, the overall effect is convincing.

Among the other guests, Lillian, played by Janet McTeer, is particularly memorable as a food critic who is hilariously committed to the sanctity of art, even as things go awry. She tells her editor, Ted, played by Paul Adelstein, that she believes the event is for their benefit. John Leguizamo’s unnamed has-been movie star is also noteworthy for his self-assuredness, clinging to relevance after a particularly terrible film.

Some characters in the show are forgettable, like a group of anonymous young professionals, Slowik’s alcoholic mother, and a wealthy couple who represent old money and deserve to be taken down a notch. It’s hard for these peripheral characters to stand out in a field dominated by the witty banter of Fiennes and Taylor-Joy. However, there are still sparks flying.

Director Mylod’s discipline is equally impressive. The production is built on staccato rhythms, a dance of many interplays that are funny, vicious, deliciously uncomfortable and often terrifying in the early stages. Although the devices used are not as original as the concept itself, they are deployed skillfully. However, once the boiling point is reached and tensions start to steam, the impact lessens. One jaded sous chef complains that conceptualism is necessary to hold things together, otherwise it just tastes good and what’s the point? While The Menu may not have a cohesive concept, it still proves that being delicious is enough of a point.

By Lucy

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