Woody Allen used to tell an old joke: “Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.'”
During the eight-course degustation served up in the film The Menu, this only half applies. The portions are small. But that is what you get when you have an egotistical chef who thinks his food is more art than sustenance/substance.
Move over Wolfgang Puck. Martha Stewart. Daniel Boulud. The Menu introduces Chef Slowik. Ralph Fiennes plays this world-class chef of an exclusive restaurant, on an exclusive island, seemingly by channeling his serial killer character Francis Dolarhyde from the 2002 film Red Dragon.
Only this dinner is about so much more than food. Chef Slowik insists his patrons not eat. Instead, he urges them to savor and relish and taste from this well-thought-out lavish meal that provides surprise, shock and drama, and not only on the plate. I thought I was here for a very special menu where I absorb it all without any of the calories, but I was in the dark along with the diners. Part psychological thriller, part black comedy, this film took us first to surprising places — and then even further. Unpredictable. Entertaining. And laugh-out-loud funny.
As for that ensemble cast, it was nice to see Judith Light (Transparent, Ugly Betty, Who’s the Boss), who has aged like the fine wines served with each course. Underrated as an actor, she was underutilized here. Having said that, her moments of emoting were duly noted.
Hong Chau, who you may know from Big Little Lies, Homecoming and/or The Whale, is deadpan here as assistant to the great chef. She maintains law and order, with a subtle flavor that makes you love and hate her all at the same time.
John Leguizama. He portrays a movie star no longer on the A-list — taken off the menu so to speak — and he’s very likeable in this role.
The movie is like a substance undergoing fermentation. There is brewing and foaming and frothing and boiling and bubbling. As a movie patron, you will not be partaking of “the menu,” but you will still enjoy. And remember what the American writer Ernestine Ulmer said: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” ~Sharon Salsberg
3.5 out of 5 stars
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