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‘The Menu’: A stylish takedown of elitism and fetishized food culture

Nov. 16, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 17, 2022 at 12:57 p.m.

Anya Taylor-Joy, left, and Ralph Fiennes in "The Menu."  (Searchlight Pictures)
Anya Taylor-Joy, left, and Ralph Fiennes in "The Menu." (Searchlight Pictures)
By Ann Hornaday Washington Post

Say this much for “The Menu”: Its seared, carefully julienned heart is in the right place.

In Mark Mylod’s stylish satirical takedown of elitism, capitalistic excess and fetishized food culture, Ralph Fiennes delivers a fiendish turn as an egotistical chef whose restaurant occupies a remote island. As the film opens, a group of lucky diners board a boat to ferry them to what promises to be a culinary experience for the ages.

After the ferryman deposits the A-listers on an attractively rustic shore (played by Jekyll Island in the film), the diners are taken on a tour by Elsa (Hong Chau), who explains that everything they will be eating tonight comes from surrounding nature, the kind of smug farm-to-table speech that has been parodied hilariously in “Portlandia.” Once the diners are seated in the restaurant itself, Chef Slowik (Fiennes) proves to be a simultaneously fascinating and fascistic ringmaster, introducing each course with a dizzyingly unreliable narrative, his agenda coming into focus as he sets his piercing eyes on his customers.

He’s out for blood, but whose will it be? The eager foodie and his pretty girlfriend (Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy)? The restaurant critic and her toadyish editor (Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein)? The celebrity and his girl Friday (John Leguizamo and Aimee Carrero)? The bored, embittered spouses (Reed Birney and Judith Light)? Or the obnoxious finance bros with no taste and way too much money (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang and Mark St. Cyr)?

The high jinks and lowdown deeds that ensue in “The Menu” are sure to remind viewers of “The Triangle of Sadness,” Ruben Ostlund’s similarly bilious takedown of the rich and fatuous. Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, this jaundiced parlor game is enhanced by a handsome production design and a cast that digs into its theatrical premise (and flashes of humor) with gustatory relish. Filmed in rich tones by Peter Deming, who photographs the food in glistening close-ups, “The Menu” is often a pleasure to watch, especially while Chef’s true intentions waft into focus like so much asparagus foam.

Once the game is afoot, though, “The Menu’s” soufflé starts to sag, with the plot becoming drearier in direct proportion to the body-horror jump scares. “Eat the rich” might be a popular theme this movie season, but “The Menu” takes the idea to extremes that finally overpower the palate.

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