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The Menu–Prix Fixe Squid Game Anyone?

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu” –a quote credited to Senator Elizabeth Warren in fighting for  her constituency before Congress.  But what about both–a seat at the table and on the menu too?  In the opening scene of The Menu, a group of nine wealthy foodies have paid $1250 per person to travel by yacht to a privately-owned island where celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes at his sinister best) will provide a rarified feast at his uber-exclusive restaurant, Hawthorne.

The narrative starts out very slowly, with a delightful satire of “tweezer” food and the provenance of its meats and animal husbandry taken to ludicrous laboratory dimensions.  The Menu teases the viewer: Is this a riff on the pretensions of American haute cuisine and the 1%?  Or is it an absurdist noir film so genuinely inventive that the unexpected is just around the corner?

The characters are more types, than full-blooded, as is often the case with sociopolitical satire.  There is the Egomaniacal, Unhinged Chef:  Ralph Fiennes. The Obsequious Sycophant–Nicholas Hoult. The Brave Truth-Teller: Anya Taylor-Joy. The Condescending Critic: Janet McTeer, The Has-Been Actor: John Leguizamo, and the Three Silicon Valley Billionaire Circle-Jerks: Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro, and Rob Yang.  All the cast, gifted with a brilliant script,  are without a misstep.  There are more surprises than one film can pack in.  As a result, a few red herrings are just too much: especially the chef’s mother, who sits at a table by herself.  Except for a few data points to the chef’s backstory,  she is superfluous, completely irrelevant.

The style and staging of the restaurant evokes the highest-end restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York with its realism and authentic dynamic of the crazed kitchen staff.  The Menu’s  highly original combination of suspense,  dark comedy, and “Squid Game” (see my October 14, 2021 review) horror is not for everyone.  Warning: you may become ravenously hungry!

Availability:  Netflix streaming

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