Is The Menu a Good Movie? Chronicle critics discuss new horror satire about high-end restaurants – SF Chronicle Datebook | Episode Movies

Ralph Fiennes in The Menu. Photo: Eric Zachanowich/TNS

Sometimes it helps not knowing much about the world a movie is set in. If you know about politics, political movies can seem fake. If you know journalism, movies about rowdy reporters from a local newspaper seem utterly ridiculous. But when you’re outside of those worlds, they seem fine.

So after seeing and really enjoying The Menu, director Mark Mylod’s new satirical horror film starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, I asked myself: what would a person who knows the restaurant industry think of this one keep movie?

I decided to ask one of the Chronicle’s culinary sages, associate food critic Cesar Hernandez. Among other things, we talked about the realism of the film or its lack of it, about celebrity chefs and how critics in films are always rich.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Mick Lasalle: What do you think of The Menu?

Cesar Hernandez: I saw this with two minds: as someone who enjoys the thriller genre and as a food critic. If I was able to suspend disbelief and embark on this crazy scenario, the movie can be a good time. But when there’s food on the screen, I start to nitpick like I would in a restaurant.

Some scenes really threw me off, like the taco scene. I have a hard time believing that they invested all that money into making all the food look accurate, intellectual, and artful, but didn’t they pull off a good taco?

Also, in general, the sensory presentations of food were a bit lacking. There is a lot of explanation about the food that everyone will eat and the characters also tell you that it is good. But showing her eating wasn’t very convincing. These tortillas from this taco dish looked really dry. I know they were mostly a campy display of everyone’s secrets, but it looks like a sad taco on a super dry tortilla. Even someone as talented as Nicholas Hoult couldn’t sell it.

Compared to something like 2014’s Chef, starring Jon Favreau, those food scenes at least made me hungry. I think the only appetizing food on The Menu was the burger.

What role do you think food plays in this?

The space: You and I have the advantage of writing about the two things everyone cares about – food and movies – and the disadvantage of writing about the two things everyone thinks you are experts on.

For me, as a total non-expert on food who considers myself an expert, I loved this film. I recently did the big tasting menu at French Laundry, and I thought it was just the worst food — eight courses of fancy mush paired with absurdly expensive wines. I literally followed a guy into the dining room who had a “Let’s Go Brandon” bumper sticker on his car – just a bunch of rich people trying to find a way to spend their money. I just thought it was a total joke and a scam. So I saw The Menu as a delightful joke about a joke.

Did you notice that one of the characters is named Keller? To me, the satire felt just right.

But I also realize that I’m a real ignoramus in this regard. So as I watched, I wondered if the satire was just right for me just because I Not really know this world. And I was wondering if you – as a true expert – thought the satire of food fair and thoughtful, or just sort of superficial and unfair.

Hernandez: The satire is actually what I liked most about the film. There is a lot of truth to the various avatars that represent a diner. The tech brothers or VC guys are almost as ridiculous as the movie makes them out to be. I even laughed at the critics’ representation – although, I must say, I didn’t see myself in the critic character played by Janet McTeer.

Ralph Fiennes (left) and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu. Photo: Eric Zachanowich/TNS

The space: Yes, what they get wrong about critics is that we are all rich. And we’re not. For me, the only way I ever got into French Laundry is because I have a rich boyfriend.

Hernandez: Yeah, I didn’t grow up with money, so I didn’t frequent some of these really nice restaurants until I grew up – until I was actually a critic. All of which is to say that while the film, which pokes fun at the way fine-dining restaurants make flashy, abstracted expressions of food, is fun to watch, when you’re actually eating at a great place and dining at a higher level Experience level, this can be powerful too. Coming from someone who tends to write about the more affordable side of the restaurant industry.

What impresses me is the people who prepare the food and are dedicated to this one thing. I had the feeling that the film was a bit muddled. It wanted to comment on the idea of ​​the toxic celebrity chef, but the film doesn’t really show any of the other chefs as anything other than soldiers. Chef Slowik was like the guy from Saw and everyone worked to make his vision come true.

How did you find the chef?

The space: I didn’t have a frame of reference for him as a chef, so I was able to enjoy him as just another character in a nice lineup of Ralph Fiennes’ finely tuned, highly sensitive maniacs, from the Commander in Schindler’s List to Coriolanus.

Any other impressions of the film?

Hernandez: I think the film is generally apathetic towards the restaurant industry. Most films or media about food usually have a hopeful or ambitious tone because it’s often about survival. The Menu is about the upper echelons of food, so that’s taken out of the equation. Instead, it’s about all the ugly parts of the industry — the entitled, spoiled, obsessed, and disinterested — that keep it alive.

When I first saw it, I got the impression that the film was about the wish fulfillment of overworked restaurant chefs, as if expressing all the oppression and abuse they faced from guests and even chefs. “The Menu” is none of that.

The space: Definitely not. But it was fun. It might not be one of the best movies of 2022, but it was certainly one of my favorites.

M“The menu”: Thriller. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor Joy and Nicholas Hoult. Directed by Mark Mylod. (R. 106 minutes.) In theaters Friday, November 18.



  • Mick LaSalle and Cesar Hernandez


    Mick LaSalle and Cesar Hernandez

    Mick LaSalle is The Chronicle’s film critic and Cesar Hernandez is The Chronicle’s food critic. Email: mlasalle@sfchronicle.com, cesar.hernandez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @micklasalle, @cesarichafa

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