The Menu review new on Disney Plus

The Menu, just short of actually eating the rich, is a satisfying critique of the 1%

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cruelty is the point in Mark Mylod’s The Menu, a strange but enchanting dark comedy about an exclusive island restaurant service that goes off the rails. Replete with the shiny gloss of a Netflix chef program (many of which are namedropped in the film), The Menu succeeds as a cathartic exorcism of class frustrations, even if it features some glaring narrative and character flaws. While rather blunt in its approach to class differences and struggles, there’s no denying a certain aura of satisfaction in watching joyless wealth hoarders get their comeuppance.

As the film opens, a scattering of wealthy and powerful people are being guided onto a boat. In an almost murder-mystery-like structure, in broad strokes, we’re introduced to a collection of needy and desperate people who seem impossible to please. They guzzle down an impossibly posh deconstructed oyster, oohing and awing over the technique and presentation. Only Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems apprehensive. From the onset, she looks uncomfortable with her place in this lofty world, hanging onto her partner Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) with a cloying unease.

As they arrive on the island, they’re introduced to the monk-like existence of the restaurant workers. They sleep in bunks, and their waking hours are devoted to harvesting ingredients, food prep and, finally, meal service. The wealthy patrons only pay the vaguest attention to what is being told, making snide jokes at the expense of their host and the workers who will provide them with a meal. As they finally enter the dining room, for the most part, they only continue to indulge their egos, not necessarily in the expected self-aggrandizing way, but by refusing to engage with the world around them. 

Even though the trailers for the movie have been shoved down our throats for the past month, the film has a lot of surprises. Like the meal service central to the film’s unravelling, we’re treated to bits and pieces of information and story that will eventually reach a magnificent crescendo.

Though the film takes a while to really take off, as the stakes are raised ever so slightly, the characterizations are consistently fun and infuriating. 

If the film doesn’t always add up, it’s because the characters are built on tropes rather than reality. People often behave counterintuitively to their life experiences, but it’s a forgivable issue as it serves a greater purpose. The movie isn’t searching for nuance, going for the jugular. It still allows the humanity of even the most unsavoury characters to peer through. The effect means their fallibility and vulnerability become pitiful rather than tragic. It’s arguably mean-spirited, but it works remarkably well.

As a treatise on art and passion, The Menu comes to some rote but no less heartfelt conclusions. As you gain prominence in your given vocation, losing yourself or your passion is very easy. Particularly in an industry that serves only the upper classes, you lose touch with pleasure and simplicity. When trying to “please people who can’t be pleased,” your work loses all meaning. It doesn’t matter how refined or expensive it is — it’s alien, cold and little more than a self-serving ego rub. 

In many ways, The Menu almost feels like a 1970s throwback because it’s a high-concept ensemble piece. Each performer brings their A-game and is completely unafraid to be made the fool. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s an immense pleasure to enjoy in a crowded room. In a movie that goes just short of literally eating the rich, it is an enormously satisfying (if not obvious) critique of the 1%. ■

The Menu (directed by Mark Mylod)

The Menu opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Nov. 18.

For the latest in film and TV, please visit our Film & TV section.