I know I’m late to the party but that’s only because I got my invitation to Hawthorn’s very late. The Menu popped up on Disney+ in the Philippines and, since I’ve heard such good things about it, I decided to give it a watch. I didn’t expect to be as enthralled as I was as I really fell in love with it. While it does feel a little bit unrealistic, the premise and the acting is more than just good enough for your suspension of disbelief to be held during even the more insane parts.
Ever since then, I’ve watched a lot of other videos on YouTube trying to dissect the movie’s social commentary and espousing various theories on a lot of stuff which happened in The Menu. However, what I’ve been looking for is a deeper dive into the diners and even the chef’s staff as, while it’s easy to identify their sins on a more surface level, most dissections of the film never goes into detail nor look at the finer details of who they are.
Well, I did just that. I decided to closely examine the patrons in The Menu and try to give my dissertation on what their “crimes” are. As The Menu is a satire, there is some basis in real life and we might ourselves embody their “sins” in one way or other. Then again, I just could be looking to deep into it. Anyway, let me try to give my thoughts on the characters and where they went so horribly wrong.
The Food Critic (Lilian) and the Magazine Editor (Ted)
Lilian, played by Janet McTeer, is the one who technically discovered Chef Slowik as, in a deleted scene, she recalls a story of finding him serving out of a Korean Taco truck outside some food convention. She has a lot of clout in the industry as she has the power to bestow success or ruin a restaurant with her very prose-y reviews. However, I actually have some doubts if she’s really able to taste the food in great detail as her deep vocabulary hints at. Remember at the start of the movie when Tyler tells Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, how smoking kills the taste buds? Well, if you watch the film, you can clearly see her smoking while eating! If what Tyler says is true, and it probably is, this shows Lilian’s taste has been compromised. This may be partly why she tries to say things like “we’re eating the ocean” instead of elaborating on, you know, how the food actually tastes!
Also, Lilian is the type of critic who loves to notice every little mistake and make that the focus. You can say that’s kind of her job as a food critic. However, it does seem like she goes to extremes as she likes to point out even the tiniest mistakes, mistakes the typical person wouldn’t see or wouldn’t mind, like noticing how a pea-sized dollop of emulsion has split a little. It’s practically invisible but she’ll glean on it like it’s an egregious insult.
Lilian’s greatest sin, however, is how she loves the power she has over people. She knows she can close down a restaurant with one bad review. The magazine editor she’s with, Ted (played by Paul Adelstein) is just a glorified yes man, agreeing to whatever criticisms she makes because he has to please her. Ted has no real knowledge about food so he just agrees with Lilian’s critiques. Lilian also relishes in the fact Chef Slowik personally invited her for this special meal. She loves the adulation and how others bend to her will. What makes it worse is she doesn’t really care how what she does affects others. Ted, for his part, also has little sympathy for the restaurants which will go out of business thanks to Lilian’s reviews and, because he doesn’t stand up for himself to give his own insights, is part of the problem.
The Actor (George Diaz)
George Diaz (played by John Leguizamo) used to be a big-name actor but his fortunes have turned for the worse as of late. His best days are now behind him and has gotten by only by making cheap and dumb movies like Calling Doctor Sunshine. While this has allowed him to keep him in the limelight somewhat, he’s now looking to reinvent himself. This is the primary reason why he took the invitation to Hawthorn’s as he plans to use it as a springboard for a reality travel show where he goes to different parts of the world to try new dishes.
After it’s revealed that everyone is there to be “punished,” George asks Chef Slowik why he’s there as he has no connection with him, despite name-dropping him earlier. Chef Slowik says it’s because, on one of his rare days off, he went to see Calling Doctor Sunshine and he didn’t like it. While it’s played for laughs and sort of acknowledges the chef is crazy, there’s a little more to than just hating the movie.
Chef Slowik continues and the film is a reminder of what happens when a person loses the passion for his craft. George Diaz starred in Calling Doctor Sunshine because it was a quick paycheck for him. He probably knew it was going to be a bad movie but he chose to star in it anyway. For Chef Slowik, George Diaz in Calling Doctor Sunshine is a reminder of what he’s become: a sellout. He’s lost his love for cooking like George Diaz lost his passion for acting, taking on crap roles to get paid. He hates the actor because he also now hates himself for what he’s become: someone who’s as passionless at his craft like he is.
The Rich Couple (Richard and Anne) and the Assistant (Felicity)
Richard and Anne Leibrandt, played by Reed Birney and Judith Light, are regulars at Hawthorn’s. They have eaten at this highly exclusive restaurant around 11 times before this night. On the other hand, washed up actor George Diaz’s assistant Felicity (played by Aimee Carrero) is just there for the ride. However, they are quite similar in the sense they both don’t really care for the food, despite going to a very exclusive restaurant.
This is really apparent when Chef Slowik asks the Leibrandts to simply mention one of the dishes they’ve eaten the past few times they’ve dined at Hawthone’s the 11 times they were there before. Despite eating there frequently and each time Chef Slowik goes through the trouble of mentioning the ingredients and the story behind each dish, they both don’t know any of them because, frankly, they don’t really care about the time and effort put into what they’re gobbling up.
That’s only an aftereffect of why Chef Slowik believes the Leibrandts need to be punished. At the root of it all, it’s because the rich couple in The Menu don’t see other people as people. They’re just a means to an end to satisfy their own needs. They don’t appreciate the time and effort put into making the dishes put in front of them because all they care about is eating. They don’t even bother knowing what they’re eating because they don’t really care about all the effort needed to put it all together.
This is very evident with Richard as he’s one of Margot’s clients. He pays her so he can do nasty things while he pleasures himself and stuff like that. It’s even hinted that he does this very often without his wife knowing about it. You might think they’re acknowledging it through the high price tag but, even then, the exorbitant price they pay is nothing to them, meaning the meal itself is meaningless. People are just tools to them.
This is also Felicity’s deal but in a lesser extent. When George Diaz does try to defend his assistant as she wasn’t part of Calling Doctor Sunshine, Chef Slowik asks her what college she went to and if she had any student loans. When she says she went to Brown, an Ivy League school, and has no student loads, Chef Slowik instantly says she also deserves to die.
While this is generally played off as a joke because Felicity is basically going to be murdered because she’s well-off, the movie does show she’s not really a good person and, like the Leibrandts, only uses others to further her wants and needs. She wanted a good letter of recommendation from George Diaz as she’s applying to a different company. This is despite she’s not really that good of an assistant and has been stealing money from her boss. She basically wants all of the benefits even though she’s taking advantage of others.
The Finance Bros (Soren, Dave and Bryce) and the Angel Investor (Doug Verrick)
Although he is the head of a very exclusive restaurant, Chef Slowik still has a boss. Enter Soren, Dave and Bryce (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr and Rob Yang), a group of very successful business partners who work for Doug Verrick (played very briefly by… I don’t know because even IMDB doesn’t note down who plays Doug Varrick). Doug Verrick his the “angel investor” as he is the one who owns the island so Chef Slowik has to answer to him.
The Finance Bros basically are laughing it up while eating as, in their own words, have eaten meals as good as the ones served at Hawthorn’s. Things do turn slightly ugly when they’re served the Breadless Bread Platter course. They try to push their weight around by asking for bread but they’re rebuffed firmly. It’s also revealed how, Doug Verrick, after establishing Hawthorn’s, tried to meddle around with Chef Slowik’s menu courses by asking for substitutions.
The Finance Bros and Doug Verrick are the type of people who, because of their wealth, status and position, believe they can get what they want all the time. This is not unlike a movie studio executive who will watch a cut of a movie and “suggest” a few changes to the director. They think they have the right to interfere with someone else’s craft because they hold power over them. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong for the finished piece. All that matters is they make it suit to what they like and damn if the rest of the world will hate it.
The Foodie (Tyler)
Let’s end with the most obnoxious character of The Menu, Tyler. Tyler, played by Nicolas Hoult, is the foodie taken to the extreme. He loves watching documentaries about cooking and has a vast knowledge of ingredients as well as the techniques and tools of preparing exquisite food. He also has a very sensitive palate, as he can taste things in tea and whatnot.
Although he is obsessed the technical aspects of cooking, he has no love with the creative process on how to actually prepare the food nor does he actually bother to learn how to cook! This is shown when Chef Slowik asks Tyler to cook something. He may know the techniques but he has really no idea what ingredient works with what. Despite claiming to love food, he does not actually care about all the hard work and preparation needed to creating a spectacular dish. It’s all just an intellectual exercise to him without any of the passion needed to create something fantastic.
What’s worse is Tyler is essentially more concerned with the chefs who prepare it and not the actual food the chefs prepare. He takes whatever they make at face value and simply accept that the food is going to be great because he’s been told the food is going to be great. He’s essentially like someone who’s a big fan of a certain celebrity and, when that celebrity endorses a particular product, he blindly goes out and buys the product. Whether or not the product is good, bad or just mediocre, Tyler is the type of person who’ll say it’s the greatest thing in the world and will fight anyone who says otherwise. Tyler may be a foodie but he’s a foodie who only thinks a dish is good if it’s endorsed by some high-class chef and doesn’t really think for himself.
The strange thing is I do feel there’s a little of Hawthorn’s patrons in each and every one of us. We’re all a little overcritical at times like Lilian and there are always going to be times when were like Tyler and our idol worship clouds our own critical thinking. It’s nice to remember this as, like those people, we can all be a little bit too full of ourselves. No one’s perfect, after all.
Then again, maybe I’m just overthinking things. Who knows?
What do you think of the characters in The Menu and what they represent? Let me know in the comments section below!