Rated R for a lot of death, violence, and more suicide than you are probably prepped for. If anything should ding this movie, it's how casually this movie treats suicide. One of the suicides is particularly brutal. The movie also has a sexual background without actually depicting any sexuality on screen. Either way, a valid-yet-classy R...for the most part.
DIRECTOR: Mark Mylod
Oh. My. Goodness. I had a ginormous list of movies to write about and I caught up...for now. (Oscar season is coming up and I'm going to fall behind...again.) I'm in a dangerous place, writing-wise. Near the end of the road, that's when I get all procrastinaty. Because, as of right now, I think I'm nine-days ahead of the blog, potentially the most I've been ahead...ever. The worst part is that I think that tomorrow I'll be able to relax. That's a joke. I have half-an-hour of Pretty in Pink left to watch, so tomorrow I'm going to come in here and do the exact same thing I'm doing right now. That's okay, because I love what I do. Kind of like Chef Slowik. (You see that seemless transition? That's why I make the no bucks.)
For all of that phenomenal skill and writing prowess, that Chef Slowik comparison is apt. I've been writing this blog for six plus years. Every movie I've seen, I've written about. If I haven't written about it by some fluke (it happens entirely by accident), I'll rewatch that movie stat just to write about it, regardless of if I want to watch that movie again or even liked it. I don't know why part of my life is completely dedicated to a handful of readers (but in reality, myself and the knowledge that I kept doing this). I was spiraling some The Menu memes and the world already captured one of my key thoughts about the movie: for as much as this movie has a message, it is also very wishy-washy about that whole notion. Slowik is this guy who loved what he did. He became the best in the world at doing something very specific. He drew the attention of food critics all over the world and they gave him money and opportunity. He had to want for nothing and then he grew to hate what he was doing. I'm just jumping to the line of the movie. Just deal. "This wasn't made with love."
Some of these blogs aren't made with love. Often, they are a commitment. For example, the Tom and Jerry blog entry. Not much love there. I watched it out of love for my children, but I knew that I had to write about that nonsense. But that's where the movie goes into high concept, little depth. I actually want to gush about this movie, but I do have to get something very clear out of the way: this movie needs you to be accepting of a lot of things. This blog is one of the lowest rungs of the creative ladder. I take what other people have made and I talk about those things. Sometimes, those things I write are critical. Sometimes it's exploratory, trying to unpack a dense idea. And sometimes, it is just a blog that is loosely themed around the movies. If you happen to be one of the few directors who have read my blog (which, oddly enough, is not zero; I can have that claim to fame), I apologize if I just mused for far too many words around a theme with your movie. Right now, Mark Mylod might be thinking this if he read the blog.
I'm going to take a real leap here and talk about how creation is art. By creating something, even if it is as low-brow as generating content, there's an artistic element to it. I sometimes go through great pains to choose words for this blog. Not often, but it happens. I strive for a conversational tone, mainly because I'm trying synthesize an artificial conversation around a dimly-lit table in a New York restaurant, post-film. It doesn't work most of the time, but it's a way for me to live that life. But Slowik in this film is the broken artist. He has created and created and he's only built up this spite for his audience. In the case of The Menu, he's found people to epitomize his wrath, with the exception of the girl from Brown. While I love the joke, especially tied to the "Eat the Rich" theme, is she really worthy of his wrath? I don't know. Sometimes jokes hurt the message, but okay. Going on. Slowik finds this group of people to take out his frustrations on. He's not necessarily mad at them as individuals, but what they represent.
But ultimately, Slowik hates himself. With the dish, "Man's Folly", Slowik subjects himself to being mutilated. It's unclear whether he was full-on stabbed in the genitals. It seemed like it was his thigh, which scans with the thighs being served with the scissors implanted. (But isn't the genital thing a bit more accurate, with the notion of castration? Unless animals are castrated through the thigh. If so, I'll shut up now.) As much as he's directing his wrath outwards, it's really something that's pointed at himself. But now, I have to tie all of this back to the meme: so what? As an exploration of the frustration of art (despite the fact that this movie looked actually super fun to make), Slowik is the antagonist of the piece. His character is defined by artificially and mystery. If the story is an unpacking of the artist, the only offering is that art is a waste of time and that all artists should self-immolate. Art, in itself, is painful. It's actually a celebration of low art. In the most messed up, superficial way, it is about how high art should destroy itself and low art should be embraced.
But The Menu is kind of prestige horror. I have a hard time ascribing the term "Black comedy" to it, or else I would have to do the same thing with Silence of the Lambs. It hits a lot of the same beats tonally. As prestige horror, The Menu offers a lot of the same visual contradictions that A24 has done so well. Three-quarters of this movie are classy as can be. Honestly, if my wife was a fan of the last quarter, which is straight gore horror, she'd probably dig it as an authentic film about cooking. Lord knows that I did as well. It offers more high art than it doesn't. And it's perfect. I'm a guy who is a fan of this movie and it hits every button. I'm the audience of the movie; I'm a patron of the restaurant. The worst part is that I know which patron I'm replacing. I'm replacing Tyler and I hate myself for it.
Okay, quick digression because the writing took me this direction. I'm Tyler not because I love Tyler. I hate Tyler. You're supposed to hate Tyler. In a movie where a cult slaughters a group of individual in food-themed murders, it's odd that Tyler is the real monster of the piece. Tyler ends up doing horrible things to make him the evil one. He was the one who knew that they were dying. He's the one who invited a prostitute, knowing that they were all going to their deaths. He is the obsessive otaku. Any personality trait that goes to an extreme is probably pretty toxic. But we're meant to be Tyler in this case. I love food. I love fancy food. I also love dirty food, so keep that in mind. I went to my first Michelin star restaurant and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. My wife had an embarrasing moment at the restaurant, so I'm never allowed to talk about it. But it might be on the top five experiences of my life. I adored it. But because fo that, I have to align myself with Tyler. There's such beauty in the works that a talented artist / chef can create in a kitchen that there's just a bonafide respect for the creator. It's weird to demonize Tyler. Tyler represents respect and appreciation. Yeah, again, any trait that goes to extremes is completely toxic. But it's weird that Tyler is the grossest person in the room. Is the movie supposed to say that we're not supposed to appreciate art?
There's a moment for Tyler that is very telling. If I had to try to find the message of Tyler, it is going to be in a few moments. Tyler not only loves the food to a point of sycophancy, but wants approval from Slowek. Everything is about trying to gain a conversation with Slowek. It's all about being acknowledged and equally respected. Maybe if Slowek notices how Tyler really appreciates the art more than the others in the room, they could somehow be friends. It's pathetic, but Tyler's version of that becomes murderous. While the movie literally is about food, maybe it's a commentary on celebrity culture. But Tyler really does seem to appreciate the artist, which is somehow poo-pooed. I am trying to make Slowek Taylor Swift. I imagine that the obsessive fan is one who buys every album and hates every one of the people that Swift has broken up with. But that's not really Tyler. Tyler, if he was a Taylor Swift, is someone who picks apart the instrumentation. He would know the craft of what Swift is doing and what instruments, both literal and those that record, that Swift is using. It's not about Swift's personhood or her celebrity. It's about her as artist. That's what I don't get by the creation of Tyler. Tyler is doing what he is supposed to as the audience. He's being critical. Again, I told you. An extreme version of this blogging thing is Tyler and I don't feel comfortable.
Back on topic, we're left with this story glorfiying art and artists while simultaneously asking us to shut it all down. I mean, part of me doesn't care. The movie's pretty and love pretty movies. It's also weirdly fun and spiking part of my brain normally reserved for cooking shows. But the last act...might not work? Slowek at one point accuses his diners of not really trying to escape. It's a weird thing, because they definitely do. They lack the competancy to escape. That's a very different thing. Slowek, with the "Man's Folly" dish, allows the men to try to escape. All of them get captured and sent back. But there's genuine fear. In fact, one of the men bolts before the time is started, showing his genuine desire to escape. Slowek's accusation that they didn't try to escape very hard is almost a justifcation for an ending that doesn't work. All of the patrons, except for Erin (whom I've not spoken of at all, because she's the avatar and meant to represent a general audience watching this horror), allow themselves to be flambeed in a killer s'more bonfire. I don't buy it. I like it as a visual ending, but I think we were told that they weren't going to run rather than shown that they weren't going to run. I'm sure fan theories show that they've been sedated through each meal, but that doesn't make sense with Erin's saaviness to flee. Also, they all ran for the door when they had a chance.
I want ot talk about Erin / Margot. Margot is the heroine of the movie. As I just mentioned, she's the avatar of the piece, despite the fact that I see too much of myself in Tyler. Margot is invited to this thing, but she instantly scoffs at the entire nature of fine dining. Sure, fine dining is a thing for the rich who are disillusioned with society. Okay. But is the movie making a case against art? Erin is borderline rude at the beginning of the feast, before things get bad. She is being paid to eat this food and pretend to enjoy it. Yet, before Tyler shows his true colors, she keeps berating his joy of the meal in front of him. (Admittedly, Tyler's a jerk who comments on her smoking. But that being said, she really shouldn't smoke.) She's oddly confrontational before things get really evil. Yeah, she's the hero, but only by sheer luck.
Yeah, I crapped a lot on it. I probably don't love the message of the film very much. But it didn't change that I absolutely loved it. All of this might mean that I might have to make the message myself and that message is one of self-loathing. I love something that hates art. I love art and love the message. By extension, does that mean that I am a paradox or is it that I cannot abide my own obsession? Either way, it's a good time with a weaker third act.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.