What’s on The Menu?

Those who mourn the death of the studio comedy, rejoice; The Menu, the deliciously dark new film starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, is just about the funniest thriller you can find. While most promotional material advertised this movie as a pitch-black sendup of the world of fine dining, do not be fooled; The Menu is filled to the brim with cutting social satire, but it never once makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. This is a downright goofy film, pairing elitist mockery and bloody kills with zippy non-sequiturs and absurdist gags. And while the social commentary presented here may not be breaking any new ground (and was, frankly, done better by multiple other films this year), this can still safely be called the funniest movie of the year–or, at least, the most surprisingly funny.

The film opens with Margot and Tyler, a young couple whose relationship holds more than meets the eye, boarding a boat to Hawthorne, an exclusive, incredibly expensive restaurant operated on a remote island. Tyler (an appropriately sniveling Nicholas Hoult) is a food-culture obsessive, snapping pictures of each hor d’oeuvre served and contemplating the “mouth feel” of each bite. Margot (Taylor-Joy, excellent, as always), more reserved than her partner, is not as easily impressed (“What, are we eating a Rolex?” she quips upon finding out Hawthorne charges $1,200 a plate). The two are accompanied by a host of ultra-rich diners for the evening–a trio of hedge-fund bros, a food critic, and a washed-up actor are among the bunch–all of whom arrive expecting an incredible meal. Yet, it pretty quickly becomes clear to the audience that Hawthorne’s head chef, Julian Slowik (Fiennes), has a little more planned for the evening. 

The first forty minutes of the film are remarkably suspenseful, as it remains unclear for a while exactly what is going to go wrong at this dinner. The film keeps throwing in more and more shockingly grotesque details surrounding Slowik and his troupe of chefs, leaving both the diners and the audience appropriately stunned (the “Taco Tuesday” scene is a masterclass in awkward comedy). It all builds to one sudden, bloody act of violence, lighting the fire under The Menu and sending it into true bizarro territory. As the events of Slowik’s dinner slowly grow more and more delightfully unhinged, the comedic heights of The Menu fly higher, with a staggering number of laugh-out-loud bits. It is not surprising that the film’s director, Mark Mylod, is best known for his work on HBO’s Succession; both that Emmy-winning TV show and The Menu are incredible at pairing cutting humor with positively grim storylines.

While the film’s full ensemble is excellent (Janet McTeer and Hong Chau are both standouts), Fiennes’s work is especially brilliant here. Slowik is the unstable center of The Menu, and Fiennes spends the entire film gracefully walking the line between menacing and self-parody, carrying both the thematic weight and comedic flights of the story. It is rare to see a comedy land Oscar nominations, but I would not be surprised if a Best Actor nod is thrown to Fiennes this year.

While it maintains a reasonably swift pace for its two acts, The Menu begins to falter in its third. After all of its cards are laid out on the table and every mystery has been solved, the plot begins to feel fairly stagnant; Mylod and company are just buying time until the finale. Thankfully, the finale itself is a hell of an ending, and the film bows out with one of the most inventive setpieces I have seen this year. By the time the credits roll, it is clear that The Menu is not akin to the flawless meals of Hawthorne but more so to a really, really good cheeseburger. This is not a perfectly-crafted film, but it is certainly a good time, and it serves more than enough laughs to leave you craving another meal.