Movie Review: The Menu
I had been looking forward to this movie. The previews with Fiennes in his chef whites acting like a pretentious culinary twat were fun to me. It is mostly the strength of his performance that carries this movie.
If you haven't seen the previews, the movie is about a restaurant that costs $12,500 to get dinner at. They only serve twelve patrons a night. It's on a private island where the staff lives. But it turns out that this particular night is special; something dark is afoot. A lot fewer people leave the island than arrive.
Because I have been to culinary school, I was particularly interested. But fear not, this is not a flick for pretentious foodies. Most of the culinary bits in the movie are a send-up of the entire fine-dining industry. Everything from the martinet cooks yelling "Yes Chef!" to the utterly pretentious plates of food that the Chef actually informs his clients will not fill them up.
More than a pastiche of Gordon Ramsey and his ilk, there is an interesting psychological theme running through this movie about the cooks and their relationship with the industry and the clients. When the cooks talk about the dishes and the menu, they exude a passion that isn't mockery. At least I didn't think it was. Whatever it was, it walks a fine line, at once intriguing me about how that cook brain works, and making me chuckle at what I presumed were humorous bits. But that's just it, some of the deep bits of culinary talk are such a fine mixture of serious exploration and cultural send-up that it's all the more interesting to watch.
Everybody gets skewered. The initial main character is the maximum foodie idiot. Fienne's character eventually brutally mocks him, going so far as to say that people like him ruined dining. There is a prominent--the prominent--food critic in attendance with her publisher. She gets both barrels, figuratively speaking. The rest of the diners have murder-worthy backstories that aren't culinary related. The guy who is the restaurant's angel investor is physically brutalized in front of everyone.
It all works, but the writer in me can't help but see what could have been. Because what emerges is a glimpse of an utterly fascinating character in Fienne's Chef. We get to meet his mother, hear childhood anecdotes about his abusive upbringing, and see his bizarrely kitted-out cottage on the island. He is by far the most interesting character in the movie, yet we are stuck focusing on Anna Taylor-Joy's character who is much less interesting, and her face is hard for me to look at; it's got some subtly odd geometry that just really grated on me by the end of the movie.
My only real complaint is that they left the best material on the table. It would have been much more interesting to have a movie about that restaurant, the lives of the staff, their devotion to their chef, the restaurant's discipline, and of course the food.
Go watch this movie. Even if you don't like it, I think you'll find it a more interesting failure than the rest of the tripe out there.
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