The Menu is a satirical thriller about a celebrity chef who prepares a masterpiece of culinary art with some disturbing surprises. On its surface, The Menu is a satire of the pretentious side of ultra-fine dining and of the class of people wealthy enough to experience such cuisine. However, the ideas presented in The Menu reach well beyond the culinary world. Read on for a brief review, an FAQ covering basic questions to interesting plot points, and an examination of the movie’s themes.
This review begins with a promise: food puns and cooking metaphors will be avoided whenever possible. For one thing, too many other reviewers and commenters have already done that. It’s almost like it’s expected at this point. But also, it seems like trying to be too clever for your own good is one of the things The Menu is laughing at. The Menu would also mock most attempts at trying to intellectualize the movie’s merits and faults too much, and that puts someone who makes their living analyzing and writing about movies in an awkward position. That effective dissection of the relationships between artists, consumers, and critics is the biggest reason why The Menu works so well.
Ralph Fiennes stars as Julian Slowik, a chef whose status has grown to such an elevated position that his food is unattainable by all but the richest of people. The Menu takes place during an evening on Chef Slowik’s private island where he has cultivated a cult-like following from a small group of live-in cooks and servers. Slowik has twelve guests for dinner this evening at his restaurant, named Hawthorne, and his multi-course meal is meticulously planned with each and every guest in mind. However, there is one person among the twelve who may ruin his plans.
Anya Taylor-Joy is Margot, a diner who we learn early in The Menu is not on the guest list. Margot is the last-minute guest of Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a fawning fanboy of Slowik’s whose obsession with food is in stark contrast to Margot’s own indifference to the whole fine-dining event. Margot’s unexpected presence threatens to ruin Chef Slowik’s carefully planned evening, especially when she becomes the only person to really challenge the Chef and his “art” when each course gets successively more outlandish.
To say any more about the plot would ruin the experience, but this basic setup is enough to get a sense of what the movie is going for. The Menu is a satirical thriller that uses strong performances from great actors to elevate the material into something quite interesting and fun. The characters in the movie are largely stereotypes (a snobby critic, a washed-up actor, an obnoxious superfan, thieving businessmen, etc.), but every cast member makes the movie work well when it might have fallen flat otherwise.
It should also be noted that the cinematography is excellent. It’s no small feat to keep viewers visually interested in a movie that takes place mostly inside of a single room that is dominated by grays and blacks. Nothing feels bland or repetitious. On the contrary, The Menu does a great job of building suspense and tension in part by filling every shot with plenty of background information. What are the people at the other table talking about? Why did that waiter move behind those people? What is the Chef staring at? It’s all very well done.
Most importantly though, the story is told in an interesting way. You may think you have an idea of what is going on in The Menu from its trailers, but then again, it may not be what you think. There are no big surprise twists to cheapen the experience here. The movie tends to drop hints (and sometimes flat-out tells you what’s going to happen) to increase suspense, and every twist and turn comes from character-driven moments. That helps make the finale of The Menu feel satisfying rather than surprising, which is a smart way to do a movie like this. The Menu is an intelligent, stylish, and funny thriller that understands the value of a straightforward plot executed well.
The Cast of The Menu
The cast of The Menu is stacked with fabulous actors in every role. Listed here are the main cast members along with brief descriptions of their characters. Spoilers about the secrets they are hiding are hidden since discovering their connections to Slowik is part of the fun of the movie.
Ralph Fiennes as Chef Julian Slowik
Chef Slowik is the main antagonist in The Menu. He is a celebrity chef whose private restaurant Hawthorne is situated on a private island where he and his staff grow their own food. Slowik is a true artist when it comes to food, but his elite status has allowed/forced him to live in a kind of bubble where he has lost touch with the everyday world. He is disillusioned by his path in life, and he feels underappreciated by the people whom he creates his art for.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot
Margot is an escort who accompanies Tyler to Hawthorne as his plus-one. Out of all of Hawthorne’s diners this evening, she is the least impressed. Margot’s tastes are common and relatable, and she is perceptive enough to see through the pretentiousness of Slowik’s food presentations. Spoiler: Margot’s real name is Erin, and she was previously hired as an escort for another of Hawthorne’s diners, Richard. Margot was not on the guest list, causing Slowik no end of discomfort as he tries to adjust his carefully planned meal.
Nicholas Hoult as Tyler
Tyler is a know-it-all foodie who is obnoxious about how he approaches fine dining. For Tyler, there is absolutely a right and a wrong way to enjoy food. Tyler doesn’t believe the rules apply to him (blatantly ignoring Hawthorne’s dining room etiquette), and he is desperate to gain the attention and approval of his idol Chef Slowik. Spoiler: Tyler knew beforehand that everyone would die at the end of the night, and he brought Margot anyway because he knew Hawthorne wouldn’t accept reservations for just one person. Also, Tyler is being punished by Slowik for draining the enjoyment out of the culinary arts with his gatekeeping and lack of practical knowledge.
Janet McTeer as Lillian Bloom
Lillian is a food critic who wields considerable power. Like Slowik, Lillian’s feeling of self-importance isn’t without merit; Her words have helped boost the careers of chefs. However, her personal tastes and whims have also destroyed people’s careers. Lillian is accompanied by her sycophantic editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). Spoiler: Slowik’s intention of having Lillian as his guest is to point out that her perceived power is arbitrary, and that she’s lost sight of what her career has done to well-meaning, talented chefs.
John Leguizamo as George Díaz
George is an actor whose best days are behind him. Once he was famous, but now George is more concerned with using his established name as a way to gain favor and make easy money rather than focusing on his craft and creating art through his acting abilities. George is accompanied by his disillusioned assistant and girlfriend Felicity (Aimee Carrero). Spoiler: George is being punished by Slowik because the Chef once watched a movie of George’s, and the lack of artistic merit in the film crushed Slowik’s own artistic drive for days. Slowik sees George as a sellout, which Slowik is at least partially afraid of turning into himself.
Reed Birney as Richard Liebbrandt
Richard is a businessman and a frequent diner at Hawthorne. He is accompanied by his wife Anne (Judith Light). Spoiler: Richard has two things going against him. First, he cheated on his wife by previously hiring Margot as an escort. However, Slowik’s main problem with Richard is that he’s eaten many meals at Hawthorne, but he can’t recall specific dishes. To Richard, Slowik’s food has no true meaning.
Mark St. Cyr as Dave, Rob Yang as Bryce, and Arturo Castro as Soren
This trio of businessmen treat dinner at Hawthorne as a sign of status. They are all business partners who deal in some shady areas, and they are in love with the power their money and roles afford them. Spoiler: Slowik knows that Dave, Bryce, and Soren are all stealing money, and their ties to the man who finances Slowik’s private restaurant mark them for punishment. Slowik aims to show them that they didn’t earn their status, and their power can be taken away.
Hong Chau as Elsa
Elsa is the headwaiter at Hawthorne. She makes sure everything runs smoothly, and she is Hawthorne’s second in command. Elsa is very protective of her status, just as she is proud of herself and the staff she oversees.
Frequently Asked Questions
Even though the story in The Menu is rather straightforward, the movie may leave a few lingering questions for viewers. While specific character motivations are always open to interpretation, here are our answers for a few of the film’s more pressing questions. Major spoilers from here on out in the article, obviously.
Is The Menu streaming on Netflix or any other platform?
What genre is The Menu?
What is Chef Slowik’s Plan?
Slowik’s plan for the evening is to confront each of his guests with their sins and their roles in harming others (i.e. harming Slowik and his art). Slowik feels that the people he feeds night after night have ruined his art, the only thing he ever truly loved. They have taken something that is supposed to be about taste, pleasure, and sustenance, and turned it into a joyless exercise in maintaining their elite status. Or, like the food critic, they’ve devoted their lives to scrutinizing the work of others which can have disastrous effects. Or, like the movie star, they’ve compromised their own art for money. Slowik wants to free himself, his guests, and his staff from their misguided lives with his final masterpiece which will end with everyone being burned alive. In death, they will all be free.
Why don’t the diners just leave?
Even so, Richard (Reed Birney), the older businessman who was cheating on his wife, does try to leave at one point. He gets his finger cut off for his trouble. The male guests are later offered a chance to run, and they are all easily caught and brought back. Also, even when Margot calls the Coast Guard, it’s revealed that the officer who arrives is working for Slowik. So, all of these factors add up to making the guests feel like escape is impossible, which is probably true.
Why does Chef Slowik allow Margot to leave?
The Slowik in the picture has a genuine smile on his face, and Margot’s request of cheeseburger reminds Slowik of a time when he actually enjoyed cooking for people. It was a simple time when he made the food himself (rather than delegating to his staff), and his diners enjoyed the food in an uncomplicated way. Slowik knows that he can’t go back to those times, but he also knows that Margot doesn’t have to end up like he did. Margot still has the chance to avoid becoming irreversibly cynical like him.
Slowik’s entire evening was designed to free his guests of their burdens. To cleanse their sins with fire and set them free. Margot didn’t need to die though. She had set herself free in Slowik’s eyes because, while the other guests were blinded to the art of his cooking, Margot saw through it all night. She realized that Slowik was often mocking them with his food when everyone else was either oblivious or too obsessed with the finer details to notice. Margot understands Slowik, and the cheeseburger proved that.
‘The Menu’ Ending, Explained: What happens at the end of The Menu?
Meanwhile, Margot takes a boat and attempts to guide it away from the island towards the mainland. The boat runs out of gas, but Margot isn’t worried. She made it out, and she is safe. She also has a new outlook on life thanks to her near-death experience. Margot sees the blaze erupting Slowik’s island, so in the light of the fire, she sits on the deck of the boat savoring the remainder of the cheeseburger Slowik made for her. Some viewers have speculated that Slowik possibly poisoned the burger, but there is no reason to think that’s the case. Instead, the burger is probably the best thing Margot ever tasted. It is her victory meal after outsmarting the Chef and, frankly, being the smartest person in the room all night.
The Themes of The Menu
The Class Divide
One of the major themes of The Menu is about classism and the disparity caused by wealth inequality. This is probably best represented by the trio of businessmen who are stealing from their company. When they are served a breadless bread plate, one of them demands to be served bread. Elsa, the headwaiter, flatly tells them, “no.” One of the businessmen tries to pull the “do you know who I am” card, but it doesn’t get him anywhere. He gets no bread, but he does get humbled. Even Slowik himself, who is rich to the point that money doesn’t even matter to him, is humbled by Margot’s continuing challenge of his authority. Of course Slowik is more aware of his own sense of self-importance than his guests, but he is still taken by surprise when Margot, somewhat mockingly, claps to get Slowik’s attention before asking for a cheeseburger.
Fine Dining as Pretentious Art
The Menu is also about the (sometimes) pretentious nature of ultra-fine-dining. Margot is the conduit for the audience, serving as a relatable presence among a group of characters whom most viewers may find ridiculous. The Menu isn’t necessarily saying that there isn’t an art to cooking, but it is saying that many people can get so carried away with assigning meaning to every minute detail that they lose sight of what it all means. Tyler, the obnoxious foodie, knows a lot about food, but he thinks there is only one way people should enjoy it. Tyler repeatedly tells Margot she’s not eating and enjoying her food correctly which is one way to completely strip the enjoyment out of food altogether.
The other side of ruining the experience of food is exemplified by the food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer). With the breadless bread plate, Lillian justifies it in her own way, arbitrarily assigning a value that Slowik may or may not have intended. Even worse, regardless of the value of the dish, she instead focuses on what she considers to be the worst part of the presentation. Lillian complains about a broken emulsion which is just one of multiple parts of the dish. Slowik then mocks Lillian by presenting her with an entire bowl of broken emulsion, which, by the way she goes on about it, is her “favorite” part of the dish. So, like the self-assured foodie, the self-important critic can also ruin the joys of eating good food.
Expanding the Themes
These themes are readily apparent in The Menu, but what’s great is that the ideas can be extended to other forms of art. Since The Menu is a movie, it’s not hard to transpose the ideas about pretentiousness in the food world to pretentiousness in the film world. Tyler the obnoxious foodie is like the arrogant cinephile on social media chastising people for enjoying a movie they personally don’t like. They’re the same kind of person who lauds a particular film, and if you disagree with them, you just don’t understand what the movie is really about.
Also, Lillian the food critic is like a famous film critic or internet-famous influencer. Just because their voice is amplified, that doesn’t mean their words should necessarily hold more weight than anyone else. Art, whether it’s made up of food or film, is largely subjective. And sometimes you don’t want a meticulously crafted arthouse film. Sometimes you just want something simple and comforting like a formulaic slasher movie. It’s like the difference between fine-dining and a slab of meat and cheese in a bun. Both can be great, but when you lose your ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of whatever kind of art you’re into, you should maybe think about why you’re still into it at all.