Reviewing The Menu is, at first, a little strange, as it seems to be against the whole point of the film to do so. It’s a film about art and being critical of our consumption of that art – be it from a fanboy perspective, a critic’s perspective, or even that of the most regular, non-committal consumer you can imagine.
It’s a film about a Chef who’s lost all passion for cooking because of the people he’s cooked for; regular customers who can’t name a single dish of his, famous people who drop his name for their own prestige, critics who review his food to fuel their egos and fanboys who are obsessed with the very idea of being in the same room as him. And what does he do? Start up a lovely night on his island restaurant where he’ll serve what he thinks is his best food… and slowly drive it around the theme of killing them all off for what they’ve done to him. Except one person, Margot, was not invited and has come along in someone else’s stead, throwing the whole night slightly off balance.
But in saying all that, reviewing the Menu becomes a little less strange. The antagonist is the artist – the cook who despises those who’ve consumed his food and perceivably twisted it into something he can no longer enjoy. If framing him as the bad guy doesn’t put on a show of self-awareness then I don’t think anything else will. The Chef is a self-obsessed man who is just as guilty for poisoning his own love for his craft as anyone else in the film. And in that lies the only salvation for the people invited to his night of death.
The only person to pick up on this is Margot, who after failing to change his perspective, organise an escape and radio off of the island, simply tells the Chef she doesn’t like his food because there’s no love in it. For all the fancy dishes she’s endured that night, she simply asks him to prove her wrong by frying her a good ol’ American cheeseburger with no pretentious larger concepts or ideologies behind it, aside from making it with the intent that she, the customer will enjoy it. Then, after all the cooking we’ve seen in the film, the Chef smiles for the first time making this cheeseburger, and at the positive feedback Margot gives him for having gone tot he trouble to make it so well.
Indeed, the morale lesson of The Menu is for artists to make work they enjoy and for consumers to try their best to enjoy it. A lot of you might be thinking duh!, but I might go as far to say The Menu’s message is a controversial one right now.
Negativity gets clicks and attention. Type in Rise of Skywalker on YouTube and see how many angry, photoshoped Daisy Ridley’s lie in the thumbnails of hour long videos about how utter rubbish the film is. In fact, The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect case study for the message of The Menu; a film that was made without love and which received no love, in a part of a multimillion dollar that hasn’t had it’s setting or characters utilised in any ways since, while spin off’s of George Lucas’s prequel films continue to be dished out left, right and centre. So if any fellow film reviewers or Star Wars fans receive an ominous invitation from JJ Abrahams to go to Star Wars land at Disney World, I’d decline. You might just be in for a night of murder.
None of this is to say The Menu hates the idea of criticising art. Margot only lives because she has the spirit to demand better of the artist who has put her through so much crap so that she can receive something so much more. But it draws a clear line between criticism and vitriol, in Margot’s plain and honest explanation of what she hated about her night, and the satirically pretentious food taster’s and restaurant reviewer’s pretentious desire to find any one single flaw in the night that’s been so painstakingly put together solely for their benefit. Well, y’know, prior before the stakes are upped by the murder and stuff.
And in this age of fandoms and franchises, The Menu is also quick to criticise the idolisation of artists and the power those artists can hold over audiences. One poor fellow loves the Chef so much that he keeps it secret for weeks that he knows everyone who attends the meal will die, and still brings a plus one with him (Margot), who doesn’t know this. All this for a chance to see the Chef, whose ever recipe he knows, whose very presence he basks in and whose ever move he wishes to understand. And when this fanboy meets our delightfully evil Chef? He is asked to cook. He does his best to appease the Chef and caves under the pressure he has placed on himself, making the worst meal of the night and is then told by the Chef to kill himself for doing so… And he does actually kill himself.
In this age of J.K Rowling said this that and the other about the LGBTQ+ community, and Elon Musk has done this that and the other to the employees of Twitter, with waves and waves of faceless people that do not, and will never, know each other battling in the war of demonisation vs idolisation, this is all very relevant.
And that’s why I like the Menu. It’s not only a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, about a Chef killing a bunch of people on an island, it also has something to say about itself, it’s audience and how those things fit together. It’s a delightful watch I wish I’d got to earlier, because I very much enjoyed it. So, yes, I would recommend The Menu.
I’m looking forward to this one!
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Was a surprise for me. I went in expecting nothing, and was very pleasantly surprised.