Directed attractively by Mark Mylod, whose name I recognise from SUCCESSION, and written with energy and wit by Will Tracy and Seth Reiss, with a very nice score by Colin Stetson. Inspired by Tracy’s visit to a restaurant in Bergen, apparently in much the same way that FAWLTY TOWERS was inspired by John Cleese’s visit to a hotel in Torquay.
I have a passing interest in food innovation and art. I have read the Noma and Faviken books in much the same way I read science fiction or futurism. (Redzepi and Nilsson have the advantage of being good writers, and all their books are a pleasure to read.) One of my favourite episodes of Bourdain was his final visit to El Bulli, home of the mad scientist Ferran Adria. I’ve never eaten at that sort of place and will never get to, but the thinking and the level of invention is fascinating to read about. Hawthorne, the restaurant alone on an island in THE MENU, is that sort of place. And, like Bourdain at El Bulli, it is Hawthorn’s final night of service. But the twelve people who just paid two grand to eat there don’t know that. Yet.
Anya Taylor-Joy has become the kind of actor who can rivet the attention just by visibly thinking. There’s a moment where she sits and processes, extrapolates, tests and decides, that is completely convincing. Ralph Fiennes starts of as something of a caricature of the genius celebrity chef, and has fun as he descends into full movie villain. The script depends on him being able to pull off a tricky transition in the third act. This is why screenplays are part of a collaborative art, right? When you need exactly the right actor to pull off what the script requires in its crucial moment. Which is a real high-wire hold-your-breath moment. And Fiennes changes gears within the shape of the character as established to produce a human shift so delicate and gentle that it’s quite wonderful to watch.
THE MENU compares interestingly with GLASS ONION, another recent film about a group of people trapped on an island with death. THE MENU is earthier and nastier, and all its laughs are deep dark ones. The laughs are there, don’t get me wrong – it ends on two gags, too, one over the top and the other marvellously understated –but THE MENU is more strongly scorched by anger, regret and loathing. Its satire, sad and furious, is a bit of a sawn-off shotgun compares to GLASS ONION. But then, everyone’s a target.
THE MENU is a fable. A fable about stories and storytelling. And it operates like a fairy tale, which gives it a freedom to operate outside reality, but inside the truth of stories.
THE MENU – DVD and Blu-Ray released 17 January 2023.