The Menu opens with eleven ultra-wealthy people boarding a boat bound for a tiny East Coast island on which sits Hawthorne, one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. (Real-life foodie meccas like KOKS, on the Faroe Islands, serve as the obvious inspiration.) Within the first few minutes, we see that something's amiss: Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has arrived with her date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), is not on the evening's guest list: she has taken the place of his former date for reasons not immediately clear. This causes great concern for hostess Elsa (Hong Chau) and famous head chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), which suggests that they had careful plans for their customers – sinister plans, we suspect, especially when we are shown how awful these rich diners are. If anyone is due a comeuppance, it's this lot.
If you've seen the trailers, you know that The Menu is not a soulful human drama but a satirical black comedy. But while I enjoyed the film, I didn't find it funny enough to register as a comedy and not sharp enough to count as satire. It's not enough just to sneer at the arrogance and entitlement of the 1%. The characters here are not in their own demented universes – most react to the mayhem served by Slowik and his staff in human, relatable ways. Yet even taking into account the outrageousness of the onscreen proceedings, there are plot twists and character motivations that, if you'll pardon the pun, are hard to swallow. The screenplay by Seith Reiss and Will Tracy is, if you'll pardon another pun, just a tad undercooked.
In the end, the only cohesive message I found in The Menu was a surprisingly reactionary one: "Surely, nobody actually likes this fancy frou-frou food – not even the chef!" I'm no great epicure, but I have eaten one or two multi-course "gastronomic" meals in my life, and you know what? They're fun! Pretentious as some of their dishes may be, their ideas are still creative and worth a giggle, and I've left full and happy. Chef-driven haute cuisine is not the Emperor's New Clothes scenario that this movie purports it to be.
The cast, which also includes John Leguizamo, Judith Light, and Janet McTeer, is unimpeachable. Yet I have to say that English actors Fiennes, Taylor-Joy, Hoult, and McTeer are done no favors by being cast as Americans. Of the four, only Fiennes's Yankee dialect is shaky, but I think they all would have been more convincing – and funnier – if they spoke like the Brits they are. (Hoult's character is a spin on his imbecilic, British-accented gourmand on the TV series The Great, where he is absolutely hilarious.) In fact the movie itself might have worked better if it was set in the UK.
I still liked The Menu. It's got plenty of shocks and surprises. It's just not as clever as it thinks it is.