Only the rarest of individuals get to go to Hawthorne’s. It’s the most exclusive of restaurants for the most privileged of people: movie stars; über-wealthy business owners; hoity-toity food critics; old money; the crème de la crème.
In fact, the meals offered at this establishment are not really meals at all. They are menus; specifically designed courses of dishes with a story and approach. These exquisitely crafted epicurean experiences are each intended to deliver a unique taste, a thing to savor, a moment of relish. And every detail is thought through, raised, reaped and created right there on the restaurant’s own island by a hand-picked staff of the best in the world.
For all of that, though, Margo doesn’t quite get it. I mean, truthfully, she isn’t the sort of person who would even be expected to get it. She’s just a young woman who’s been invited to dinner by a snooty foodie guy name Tyler, whom she doesn’t know all that well.
Margo is a fill-in for his original date, who cancelled at the last minute. And she’s quite aware of that fact. She’s nothing but a substitute who’s simply pretty enough to be arm candy for something special. But hey, from her point of view a fancy meal is a fancy meal. And this one cost a cool $1250 per person. So it ought to be something special indeed.
Tonight, however, is special for another reason: The brilliant Chef Slowik and his staff have been painstakingly planning and constructing an experience unlike any other. It will be an event that will never be duplicated again. It will be unparalleled, and it is designed specifically for each person in attendance.
Except for Margo, that is.
She isn’t supposed to be there. She doesn’t fit the perfect menu that’s been labored over for so long. And when the chef enters and looks at Margo with a long-held, intense gaze, she, more than anyone else in the well-appointed room, knows that something beyond her imagination is about to take place. The Chef’s eyes speak as clearly and intensely as a scream in a burning building.
It has begun!
And the evening likely won’t be to Margo’s taste.
For all of the angst, foul choices, regret and loss in the mix of the character stories on screen, there’s also a clear message that the things our culture often values most tend to be empty and pointless. In fact, Chef Slowik demonstrates that life’s simpler pleasures are its greatest.
We hear two references to God made in the course of the dinner. In one case, Chef Slowik states that he approaches food preparation as “art on the edge of the abyss. Which is where God works, too.”
Later the Chef references bread in a meal, saying, “How did Jesus teach us to pray but to beg for our daily bread.”
Margo wears a somewhat skimpy and revealing dress. And we learn at one point that, like the restaurant employees, she is actually a “service provider” herself: someone hired for this date and someone who was hired by a different patron at the dinner to perform a sexual service in the past.
A famous actor takes his assistant to dinner with him. And it’s implied in the course of their meal that they have had a sexual relationship as well as a professional one. A part of the meal reveals to a wife at the dinner that her husband was having affairs with younger women.
Someone is accused of repeated attempts of sexual abuse by one of his female underlings.
A man puts a pistol in his mouth and commits suicide, creating a bloody tableau. A man’s ring finger is cut off. And a third man is stabbed in the crotch with a pair of scissors. Someone is adorned with a pair of angel wings, suspended over a body of water and slowly drowned. Two women fight, slamming each other around, and one is killed by a knife stabbed into her jugular. A man hangs himself.
[Spoiler Warning] Chef Slowik talks about his father strangling his mother with a phone cable. And then, as a boy, he stabbed his father in the thigh with a pair of scissors. Elsewhere, someone picks up a hot coal with his bare hand and sets a room ablaze, killing its inhabitants in a blazing agonizing fire and subsequent explosion.
There are just shy of 60 f-words and more than a dozen s-words in the dialogue mix here, along with a handful of uses of “h—” and one or two uses each of “a–” and “d–n.”
Jesus’ name is misused seven times (twice paired with an f-word) and God’s name is misused seven times as well (once in combination with “d–n”.)
A new wine is served with each new course of the menu, and all of the patrons drink freely. One older woman (whom we later learn is the Chef’s mother) drinks all night and becomes blurringly drunk.
Margo is a smoker and smokes several cigarettes.
Tyler doesn’t treat Margo well at times, yelling at her for her lack of knowledge and calling her a child. In turn, he is later publicly humiliated.
The Menu is a film with a certain panache.
From its well-designed set pieces and artsy cinematic style to its central stars’ (Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy) finely seasoned delivery, this pic pulls you into a pleasing blend of visuals and polished presentation. In fact, much like the finely tuned culinary courses that Chef Slowik serves early in the story, your eyes tell you that you should be enjoying this film more than you are.
And that’s the rub.
There’s just not a lot here to bite into past The Menu’s lightly breaded social commentary and its deep-fried and Ginsu-sliced violence. And you’re left to soak up the remaining blood and foul language.
The simple truth is this film is just not as tasty or as satisfying as it might initially seem on the plate.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.