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film review

Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik in a scene from The Menu.Photo Credit: Eric Zachanowich/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures / 20th Century Studios

  • The Menu
  • Directed by Mark Mylod
  • Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy
  • Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes and Nicholas Hoult
  • Classification R; 106 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Nov. 18

Critic’s Pick

Spending two hours with the new black comedy The Menu is not a dissimilar experience to dropping $200 a head on a prix fixe in Toronto’s financial district. Everything looks very impressive in the moment, the room is as attractive as the company and it seems that every need or desire is anticipated. But there is also the good chance that you walk out – from the restaurant, from the movie – feeling superficially stuffed, and perhaps even a bit ripped off. Good food, small portions.

An eat-the-rich satire that would go rotten without its supremely overqualified cast, The Menu is as much fun as it is ephemeral. Which is just the kind of empty-calorie philosophy that the film’s lead character, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), would espouse himself, given that the culinary genius fuses his food with a thesis that boils down to “you are what you eat.” And on tonight’s menu: revenge, served hot.

The film opens like an Agatha Christie story for the Michelin Guide set, with a group of well-heeled jerks gathered for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dine at Hawthorne, a farm-to-table restaurant located on a remote island that recalls celebrated Copenhagen establishment Noma, but with a gothic dash of Midsommar (and a dry-aging meat shed straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of picking at a breadless bread plate and scallops so fresh they’re still twitching from muscle memory, guests ranging from tech bros to movie stars hop aboard a boat eager to meet Slowik, who leads his kitchen staff like a general, or perhaps a cult leader.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult make a perfectly mismatched couple in the film.Photo Credit: Eric Zachanowich/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures / 20th Century Studios

Not as excited about the prospect of downing gels and foams and edible flowers, though, is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last-minute date for the petulant rich foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). Margot’s working-class presence acts as an easy proxy for everyone in the audience more accustomed to fast-food-casual dining – the way that she rolls her eyes at the mention of “mouth feel” is impeccable – but she also throws off Slowik’s plans to a distressing degree.

Director Mark Mylod (HBO’s Succession) keeps the courses and conversations coming at a brisk pace, moving so confidently between characters and twists that you don’t want to stop to think about the rather sour plot mechanics. And just as the collection of diners resemble fish in a barrel – who is easier to hate, the film argues, than a professional critic? – the actors cast to play them elevate the entire affair. Not only Taylor-Joy and Hoult, who make the perfectly mismatched couple, but also John Leguizamo as a very Leguizamo-y comedy star, Reed Birney and Judith Light as the kind of long-married spouses whose hatred for each other is by now an essential plank of their relationship, and Succession’s Rob Yang as the most confident kind of wealthy cretin.

Towering above them all, though, is Fiennes, who gives Slowik the kind of severe iciness that would freeze other performers on sight. We never see Chef eat a single bite throughout the film, but that’s only because Fiennes is too busy chewing every inch of scenery. Cheque, please.