Injecting satire into dark comedy is a powerful way for filmmakers to amplify the circumstances of each situation while retaining authentic elements. At least that applies to the story of the new thriller comedy ensemble, The menu. The feature cleverly denounces the excessive, exclusive culture of the elite upper class in a slightly exaggerated reality.
The menu was written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and directed by Mark Mylod. The film was produced by Academy Award-winning writer-director Adam McKay and frequent collaborator Will Ferrell.
The menu follows a couple, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), on their journey to a coastal Pacific Northwest island to dine at an upscale restaurant, Hawthorn. The eatery is run by reclusive, globally acclaimed chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who has prepared a lavish tasting menu for select guests.
The pair are joined by three young, already drunk technicians, Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr); an elderly wealthy couple and regular customers, Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reedbirney); renowned food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her generous magazine editor Ted (Paul Adelstein); and famous middle-aged movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero).
Led by the immaculately dressed front-of-house staff, led by General Elsa (Hong Chau), the evening unfolds with increasing excitement at each of the guest tables as mysteries are unveiled and unexpected courses served. In the face of the wild and violent events, Slowik’s motivation begins to shake diners as it becomes clear that his elaborate menu is designed to bring about a shocking finale.
The menu is an unconventional genre film that thrives on exploring the backstories and personalities of its characters through dark humor and harsh satire of America’s upper class privilege. Mylod’s adaptation of Reiss and Tracy’s screenplay operates with a slightly heightened sense of absurdity as it explores how some members of the wealthy class elite are consumed only by their own circumstances, which are also rooted in reality.
As a result of this blend of absurdity and reality, the dark comedy ultimately infuses a sense of humanity and emotion into every character, even those who initially seem unsympathetic. Chef Slowik, for example, is an established, renowned restaurant chef who is at the peak of his career but is still a complex character. He runs the prestigious Hawthorn, but he doesn’t own the restaurant, leaving him at the mercy of investors who don’t always appreciate his vision and passion for food.
Oscar-nominated Fiennes thrived in the role as he created a full backstory for his character, including the fact that he is someone whose artistic purity has been tarnished by his wealthy clientele. He begins to despise the elite consumers he serves and earns his living from while working at Hawthorn. The chef eventually even begins to despise himself for having been corrupted by their beliefs.
While a perfectionist, Chef Slowik recognizes that his clientele can never be satisfied with his work, and loathes the fact that he has to constantly maintain a level of perfection for people who never really appreciate it.
Being so dedicated to the uplifting and innovation of his art form and not feeling valued for his work, Cook SlowikHis humanity and pain are brought to the forefront of the film’s story, lending a sense of understanding to his actions. While the way he treats his guests on their evening at the Hawthorn cannot be condoned, his emotions put his decisions into context.
The menu‘s dark humor and sharp satire of America’s upper class privilege, brilliantly cast in characters like Cook Slowik, are highlighted by the project’s equally stunning visuals, including the cinematography and set design of the main venue. When shooting The menuMylod worked with cinematographer Peter Deming, who has extensive experience shooting horror and thriller films including Mulholland Drive and The hut in the forest.
Deming’s expert knowledge of camera placement and lighting helped develop the conflict and tensions The menulike putting a spotlight on the characters who feel the most pressure as they fight for their lives.
Mylod also kept all of the cast members on set during each scene, even if they weren’t directly involved in a specific take. After actors were encouraged to research their characters and share that analysis with their co-stars, performers were able to stay in their characters’ mindset and physicality while sitting in the background.
The director and cinematographer cleverly arranged for two cameras to capture every moment, but did not always inform the actors when they would be filmed in each scene. This allowed the performers to quickly learn their moves and choreograph each moment with character.
Even though The menuThe action of plays with the limits of reality, she has created a cinematic world that feels authentic. Hawthorn evokes the very best of a global gourmet restaurant. To design the sparse, modern restaurant and surrounding buildings, Mylod worked with production designer Ethan Tobman, who brilliantly blended food and film on screen.
Tobman created a unique space for the restaurant that enhanced the guest experience. Every design decision was guided by a character’s perspective and their emotional journey.
Chef Slowik, for example, is inspired by nature. Any ingredient he selects for a dish featured on screen at the restaurant he would have found in the landscape of the remote island that Hawthorn is on.
Because most of the dark comedy takes place inside Hawthorn, Tobman and set decorator Gretchen Gattuso created exquisite sets for the restaurant. The Hawthorn’s decor settles in a rustic modernism, as the elite guests’ dining room is rigid and minimalist, while the kitchen, which is strictly managed by Chef Slowik, has a slightly more chaotic sensibility. The entire island exhibits a very strong visual that is not common in the real world, which strongly references the guest experience they have there.
The menu is an unconventional genre film that powerfully underscores its message of condemning the excessive, exclusive culture of the rich with black humor and sharp satire. Throughs performances, cinematography and stage design, tThe thriller breathtakingly examines how some members of the upper class are consumed only by their own lives until their circumstances unexpectedly change their existence forever.
Searchlight Pictures released The menu today in the cinema, 18.11.
Check out more articles by Karen Benardello.
Here is the trailer of the film.