‘The Menu’ Mixes Clashing Ingredients For A Satisfying Meal


Director Mark Mylod’s The Menu, which saw its New York City premiere last week, is a film of opposing forces.

The setup of the narrative feels best suited for a play, and yet it feels right at home on the big screen. The tone shifts, often violently, between comedy and outright horror. And, of course, the text of the film itself presents us the battle between the ultra-rich and those seen as beneath them. Or, as Chef Slowik puts it, the divide between those who give and those who take.

The note on this story perhaps being most clearly fit for the theater, as others have noted, comes mostly from the story’s primary setting. Yes, we begin outside a boat and of course make journeys across the island. But, unlike most films, much of the action here takes place in one space, with most of the cast sharing the room for the run time.

Indeed during a press conference prior to the premiere, director Mark Mylod described how most of the scenes were shot chronologically, and how the camera demanded actors do scene work in the background even when the focus was far from them. Celebrated theater actor Reed Birney, who plays Richard in the film, elaborated further on the red carpet.

“Today would be your close up, and I would be in the background. And tomorrow would be my closeup, and you would be in the background,” explained Reed. “So it was like a theater group, where we all really supported one another. And clapped when each other had their big scenes.”

However, for Mylod, using all that technically theatrical momentum to make this story feel at home on the big screen was part of the fun.

“The creative challenge was to take what could’ve been quite a theatrical experience and make it cinematic,” said Mylod at the premiere. “And for that I looked to movies like Parasite, and [we] worked on a very kind of dynamic set…[with] quite a kinetic way of staging the film, to keep it cinematically alive and keep that tension ratcheted up.”


Speaking of the tension, the film seesaws in a balance between two, at least on the surface, opposing tones. On the one hand the story is often lighthearted, hilarious, and relaxing. But then, the plot does increasingly take turns for the darker far after the audience has any narrative means of escape left. For a film to accommodate such a breadth of emotion, then, requires careful calibration.

“The through line has to be something that keeps us in tension slash ‘could it be?’ world,” described the film’s composer Colin Stetson. “You have to be kind of on a nice edge for most of it….[And] when eerie comes in, or when horror comes in, when a real moment of human despair happens— you go hard into it because you can always fall right back into a moment of levity.”

For the film’s producer Betsy Koch, this tonal divide was what drew her to this project in the first place.

“I thought it was freakishly well written. It was this interesting sort of like genre blend,” said Koch on the red carpet. “The tone is what drew me to it. I had never really read anything like it. I thought it was laugh-out-loud funny, and I felt anxious, and this sort of dread and anticipation— all within 15 minutes of each other.”

It makes sense for a film so focused on bringing together opposing forces to center its reflections on a similar divide between its characters. And it does this by commenting on the clash between the wealthy patrons in the dining room, and those serving them in the kitchen.

As the story progresses and the menu of courses comes rolling out of the kitchen, so decreases the distance between the parties, both physically and conceptually, as the forces come to a head.

And when asked if this tension between the two parties became apparent on the actual set, one actor noted how it grew out of the work quite naturally.

“It did, just in a really organic way,” said actress Christina Brucato. “Like while we were shooting there just was this divide of where the kitchen was and where the dining area was. And how we were postured, and how they were postured. There was a really…like I don’t think anyone was intentionally method. But it was a really organic divide.”

Though of course, Brucato reassured me that the tension stayed only for the performance and all remained cordial outside of the scenes.

Actor John Leguizamo though, who plays an older and mostly forgotten action star in the film, noted that leaning into this class divide was among his favorite aspects of the film.

“I feel like it’s tapping into something that’s happening, especially in America, maybe across the world as well,” said Leguizamo in the press conference prior to the event. “The disappearing middle class, and these billionaires who think they can control our democracies, control our social platforms, control us….I think it’s a great commentary on the privilege that’s happening in America, and entitlement and people creating an ‘Us vs. Them.’ And I love them getting their punishment in this flick.”

It is fitting then, for a film so full of contradictions, to present us its cohesion via a divide we already know too well in reality.

The Menu is now playing in theaters. The film is directed by Mark Mylod, written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, and John Leguizamo.

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