The Menu is the Best Movie I’ve Enjoyed This Year (In a Virtually Empty Theater)

Things are finally getting back to normal here in the Philippines. I remember it was a couple of years ago when I wrote about how hard it was to even get a face mask here. But things are now settling down and a lot of restrictions have been removed, including the need to wear any kind of face coverings in most public places. Since things are settling down now, you would think the people over here would start facing a life of normalcy in the Philippines. I will say things generally are. Malls are getting quite cramped and traffic is already more than problematic on weekdays. Even restaurants are getting packed with people once again.

Unfortunately, the one industry that still hasn’t come close to a full recovery is the movie theater industry. It used to be that the cinemas were packed on the opening day of any super hyped up film like the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe outing. This doesn’t seem to be the case yet in the slightest as, even when I watched Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, I could pick pretty much any seat there because there weren’t that many people still watching movies in the cinema.

If that’s the case for something like a Marvel movie, can you imagine what it was like to go see one that didn’t have any geek cred behind it? Well, I did go out and see one such movie. That movie was The Menu. Despite this, I still really enjoyed watching The Menu, despite me being just one of four people watching in that big empty theater. Yes, there was just four of us. I counted.

I will say that’s quite an accomplishment because, well, one of the reasons why you do go to see something in a movie theater is to get the genuine “theater experience.” Now, the “theater experience” is not just the fact you get to see moving pictures on a super large screen along with incredible speakers blaring at you. There’s a lot more to it than that, at least for me. The “theater experience” is basically the general energy and ambiance you can only get when you go watch a movie in the cinema. It’s the taste of eating fresh or even stale popcorn from a tumbler. It’s the feel of sitting in those fold-up seats. It’s also the pain you feel in your bladder when you have to go to the restroom but can’t get up from those fold-up seats because of fear you might miss something.

But the biggest thing about the “theater experience” for me is the general energy of having an audience watch the same thing as you. Now, I get that this can be a plus or a minus, depending on the people you’re with. Believe me, I’ve also felt the need to strangle that one audience member who insists on talking on their phone while the movie is playing or the jerks who just love to talk to each other when they could’ve done that outside. However, when you do get the right crowd watching the movie with you, the experience can greatly enhance the movie. There’s nothing like the audience laughing at the right jokes, cheering when the hero vanquishes the bad guy, the tiny little sobs when something sad is happening and even the awe-inspiring silence wherein you can literally hear a pin drop when something so awesome on screen.

I didn’t get that when I watched The Menu. I couldn’t because there was only four of us. That didn’t stop me from actually laughing out loud from some of the scenes from this dark comedy thriller. That’s how good it was.

One of the great things about The Menu is, well, the premise. Without spoiling anything, the film is all about a young couple, Margot and Tyler, who goes to this super exclusive restaurant called Hawthore, where they among others will experience the cooking of celebrity chef, Julian Slowik. However, it does seem like the chef has a lot more cooking for his patrons than just food. This is a very delicious premise, pun intended. What makes it even more delectable, pun once again intended, is how we’re slowly introduced to the main characters and the plot. It’s a slow burn with some really incredibly written people here.

The atmosphere The Menu displays is on point. There’s something about how the tone feels a little off-kilter. Not enough to make it feel unrealistic but just enough for you to believe the level of craziness of everyone. I also have to commend how good the music is here as it does wonders to enhance the pretty tense and uneasy mood you’re supposed to be feeling all throughout the film. Oh, I also can’t forget about the actual food because most of the dishes are beautifully photographed and look fantastic. I mean, they’re supposed to be prepared by some genius chef. So it only makes sense to put out the most gorgeous, albeit rather pompous, looking dishes they can muster.

The performances of the main characters are also really award winning. Anya Taylor Joy’s mysterious and more down-to-earth Margot is relatable, which makes sense as she’s basically our eyes into this world of high society. Nicolas Hoult’s Tyler is a blast to watch as he’s comes off as this know-it-all when it comes to food and is just so into the eating experience. Ralph Fiennes plays the high and mighty Chef Julian Slovik and he’s perfectly cast in the part. It always seems like he’s holding back his utter disdain for the people he’s serving while trying to remain composed. And when any of these three actors interact with each other, it’s just fantastic as the chemistry between them all is entrancing. Whether it be Nicolas Hoult trying to talk down to Anya Taylor Joy on how to enjoy a dish, Anya Taylor Joy and Ralph Fiennes trying to size each other up or Ralph Fiennes utter aggravation of Nicolas Hoult’s character trying to impress him. It’s just perfect.

That’s not to say the other cast members aren’t up to snuff. They clearly are and they’re also a big reason why The Menu is so good. The customers are much less nuanced than the main characters and they all pretty much fall under some kind of rich person stereotype. Special mention does have to go to John Leguizamo as the name-dropping former A-lister who wants to get some of his clout back. Even the restaurant staff’s performances are fun. From Hong Chau’s maitre d’ to even the lowly sous chef, they all give very riveting performances. They are a little two-dimensional but they do enhance the overall deathly tone of the film. Honestly, the only thing that didn’t work perfectly for me was the ending. It not that it wasn’t satisfying but it just didn’t quite make sense to me logically. But I didn’t mind because the film was so good, I will give it a pass. The ending is good but not as great at the rest of the film.

But the thing that really impressed me about The Menu is how funny it was. I knew coming in it was going to be a dark comedy but I didn’t expect that I would actually be laughing out loud at some of the scenes and moments. There are a lot of really biting humor and social commentary that really hit home for me. Not all of the jokes work but the ones that do really hit hard.

I would definitely love to see The Menu once again. But the thing is, I would want to go see it in even a moderately packed movie house. It’s already a shame that a movie as good as The Menu is playing to just four people. The thought of a movie as good as this just playing with hardly any people enjoying an excellent film like this does hurt my soul. I still had a great time watching The Menu but I can’t help but think how much better of a time I would have seeing it with more people laughing at the jokes, squirming at some of the horrific moments and the like.

I’m actually afraid this might be a sign of the times as people, even though they are going out and trying to get back to a regular life, are still reluctant to go see movies. I would hate to see the “theater experience” just vanish as, honestly, it would be the same as people not going to live concerts or plays. Sure, I’ll be able to see The Menu when it hits streaming services but it doesn’t pack the same punch of the feeling and atmosphere of an actual movie theater. I do hope more people in the Philippines and around the world start going back to the cinema because there’s just nothing like it.

Have you seen The Menu? What did you think of it? Better question: have you started going back to watching movies in the cinema to get the “theater experience”? Let me know in the comments section below!

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