The Menu is a poor attempt at satire that fails to develop anything more than the shallowest of ideas.
Let’s quickly take stock: Triangle of Sadness hit theaters several weeks ago, White Lotus is currently winning over at HBO, and Glass Onion is hitting Netflix at Christmastime (after dropping into limited theaters for Thanksgivingtime). And now, just to ensure that no one need go more than thirty seconds without seeing a tepid alleged satire of the 1% about a bunch of rich assholes stuck together in a remote location, The Menu has viewers covered. Oh, and the film also boasts a director who helms episodes of Succession — looks like it’s a good time of year to take the starch out of some stuffed shirts.
Make way for a gaggle of obnoxious, moneyed jerks: wealthy older couple (Reed Birney and Judith Light), a toxic movie star and his assistant (John Leguizamo and Aimee Carrero), a trio of tech bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, Mark St. Cyr), a famous food critic and her editor (Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein), and then there’s snooty foodie Tyler (Nicolas Hoult) and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). They all pile onto a boat that takes them to an island where they’ll ostensibly enjoy a $1,250-per-guest meal prepared by the great chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). But it quickly becomes clear that something is amiss. Slowik’s ritualistic, domineering behavior sets Margot immediately on edge, even while everyone else seems too cowardly to do anything but defer to his increasingly weird insistences. His kitchen and waitstaff behave more like cult members than employees, going beyond the usual “Yes, chef!” stuff and generally being creepy, especially his maître d’ and right-hand woman, Elsa (Hong Chau), who seems just as cold and unpleasant as her boss.
Unfortunately, there’s really nothing mysterious here other than motive, and once that’s revealed, The Menu collapses. Slowik has gathered all these smug pricks here to exact some form of karmic revenge on the people who, in one way or another, he feels have sullied his art; it plays something like if Remy from Ratatouille had watched too many episodes of Hannibal. But since Slowik seems like a miserable snob too, there’s nobody to really root for or against other than de facto protagonist Margot, although Taylor-Joy’s crystalline steeliness and perpetually wide eyes make her feel increasingly extraterrestrial and thus a poor anchoring presence here. Mustering much enthusiasm for watching generic rich people get yelled at and chased around a restaurant — there’s ultimately a minimum of actual on-screen bloodshed — proves pretty tiresome quite quickly, and Slowik’s revenge doesn’t really make much sense in the end; murdering the wife of the rich guy or the put-upon celebrity assistant leans a bit into a throwing the baby out with the bathwater logic. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what happens here, as the point about everyone’s essential venality is made immediately, and nobody is interrogated any further beyond this cheap characterization. It seems that an obvious target getting dunked on is what sadly passes for satire these days.