Review by Sean Boelman
There are some movies in which the premise is so freaking good that it’s best to go in blind and let its magic work over you as it unfolds. That is the case with Mark Mylod’s new film The Menu, which not only features one of the best screenplays of the year, but also one of the finest ensembles in quite a while.
This is certainly the type of movie where it is difficult to describe the story without spoiling any of the surprises it has in store — and that’s half the fun! Just know that it’s a darkly comedic thriller that is set in the world of haute cuisine, and whatever your preconceived notions of what this story might entail are completely wrong.
There’s obviously a very clear social edge to the film, although given the crew behind the movie (the director, one of the writers, and many of the producers are involved with Succession, after all), that’s no surprise. Although the film is hardly subtle, it’s extremely effective at getting its overt message across.
The sense of dark humor that the movie has is certainly aggressive, but it allows it to explore its themes in a wholly satisfying way. It’s very funny in a similar way to Parasite or the like, where its humor originates as a result of its sharp critiques and insightful commentary on issues of class relations.
Ralph Fiennes is channeling his inner Gordon Ramsay, and it’s unquestionably one of the best performances of his career thus far. However, even though much of the film is him being intimidating and stolid, there are several moments in which he shows a great deal of restraint, giving the movie a much-needed feeling of nuance.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s leading performance is probably going to be a major draw, and somehow, she is the least impressive member of the cast. That isn’t to say she isn’t great — because she is — but everyone else in the cast shines so brightly that her relatively low-key performance ends up getting overshadowed.
The rest of the ensemble is also very strong, with some of them giving performances that are hilariously wacky, and others being a bit more sinister. In the former category, the highlight is John Leguizamo as the ridiculously excessive former movie star, and of the latter type, Hong Chau shines as Fiennes’s sous chef.
The Menu is not only one of the funniest dark comedies of the year, but one of the sharpest. This tremendously-written material, combined with a pitch-perfect cast bringing it to life, cements it as a film you absolutely do not want to miss.
The Menu screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.
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