One of my favorite things to come out of the pandemic was how studios are embracing newer releases on streaming services. HBO Max in particular has had plenty of new movies locked and loaded for streaming a month or so after their release dates. Its ideal for seeing movies you don’t want to go to the theater and drop $25 (including concessions obviously) to see. Which brings me to The Menu.
This wasn’t on my must-see list by any means. Sure it had garnered positive reviews, audiences seemed to be enjoying it, and its made a few flashes in awards season but to me it just wasn’t a movie I had much interest in. A horror-comedy about a world-renowned chef giving his rich and snobby patrons a meal to die for just wasn’t doing it for me. I can’t tell you how many times I had to see the trailer for this movie, I’ve been seeing it seemingly at every showing I’ve gone to for six months or so. After hearing it was coming to HBO this week I’m proud of my gamble paying off. While it’s hard to some tremendous performances and great writing I’m glad I didn’t pay for this.
The film follows a group of rich and pretentious foodies traveling to a remote island for an exclusive dining experience courtesy of the world famous Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes.) Among the patrons are Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a skeptic and uninterested woman being dragged along by her dining fanboy boyfriend (Nicholas Hoult), a washed up actor (John Leguizamo), a renowned food critic (Janet McTeer), a politician (Reed Birney) and his wife (Judith Light), and three finance bros. Their night out begins to take a turn when Slowik’s menu for the evening grows more and more disturbing with each dish.
The strengths in this film are in its writing and lead performer. It comes from some of the brains behind Succession in director Mark Mylod and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and this film features a lot of the signature fast dialogue, white collar mimicry, and a couple of A+ insults. The script is both equally predictable yet filled with left turns. The what of the ending won’t surprise many but the how cannot be predicted by anyone on this planet. The meatiest (intended) material in the script goes to Fiennes and Hoult. Fiennes absolutely crushes as Slowik, who is both a culinary genius and pleasantly demented. His command of Slowik’s facial expressions, tone, and body language has got to be up there as one of the better performances of the year. As intimidating as he is, Hoult is the polar opposite. He is having an absolute blast as a snobby foodie who idolizes chefs like most people look up to athletes or musicians. His constant need for Slowik’s approval and his demonstrating of his culinary knowledge provide some of the best moments of the entire film. Janet McTeer and Hong Chau also stood out.
As good as Fiennes and Hoult are in this I was pretty disappointed with what we got from Anya Taylor-Joy here. Since her big break in 2015’s The Witch she’s been on an absolute tear in film an TV. With films like Split, Last Night in Soho, and The Northman in addition to her work on The Queen’s Gambit and Peaky Blinders she’s clearly one of the top young actresses working today. This is one of her most high-profile releases and yet she doesn’t seem to offer much here other than just being Anya Taylor-Joy. While she’s not bad by any means, her role just felt like a hired gun where any number of actresses could have been plugged into this role and the film would have gotten the same result. I’m not mad, just disappointed. The film also lingers on a bit too long. While it certainly peaks in the middle, the build up to the finale, which again, none of you will see coming, is a bit of a downer that the film can never quite recover from.
If Fiennes or Hoult were to emerge late into lead and supporting actor races you’ll hear no complaints from me. The script is one of the best parts of the film though I doubt it’ll make the cut in a loaded Best Original Screenplay field this year. Other than that, it won’t be up for anything unless they add a category for Best Cheeseburger.
A classic example of a like-it-didn’t-love-it film. It’s highs are pretty high but the lows balance it out. Fans of Fiennes will love this role from him as its probably the best thing he’s done since The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a solid night-in movie and grade-A wealth-trashing food porn. The Menu is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
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