LOS ANGELES– A group of 11 guests gather one evening on a private island in the Pacific Northwest for a once-in-a-lifetime meal from a renowned chef in the new thriller ‘The Menu’.
At $1,200 a head, it promises to be a singular experience, but no one, not the movie star, the tech bros, the foodie fanboy, the food critic, the wealthy regulars, or the wild date, isn’t ready for just how intense, and dangerous, things will go awry as the meal unfolds under Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant and tortured chef Slowik.
The film comes from the mind of Will Tracy and Seth Reiss, both alumni of The Onion and HBO’s “Succession.” The idea to satirize the world of sectarian food came after an experience Tracy had at a fancy restaurant on a private island in Norway. They sent their script to director Mark Mylod, who directed the big, excruciating dinner episode in season two of “Succession,” and they all set in motion to create one of the most exciting and unexpected movies ever. of the year – funny, twisted and even a little heartbreaking. It opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.
To create a dynamic dining experience, Mylod took a page from Robert Altman’s playbook in which all the characters would be on set all the time, acting and conversing even when the storyline was technically focused on someone different. ‘other.
“I needed everyone to be in character all the time and improvise way beyond what we wrote on the page,” Mylod said. “So I recruited this incredibly smart, smart, daring cast. No two takes were the same. It was all exploration.”
The set features Hong Chau as the stern and elegant Elsa outside the house, Nicholas Hoult as the foodie who saved up for the night, Anya Taylor-Joy as the skeptical date, John Leguizamo as as movie star, Janet McTeer as food. critic and Reed Birney and Judith Light as regular patrons.
“If you put 12, 15, 20 actors in a room, it could be a recipe for disaster with egos and everything bouncing around and people wanting to do their best,” Hoult said. “But Mark set a good tone during the rehearsal period.”
With a traveling camera ever looming, there must have been plenty of them, but there were also opportunities to just watch and admire the performances of others. During scenes where Fiennes holds court in front of the dinner guests, Chau said they often had to pause before applauding for him. It was as if they had just been entitled to a private performance.
“He has a way of looking straight into your soul. And that’s a funny thing to me because Tyler, the character I play, is supposed to be brainwashed by Chief Slowik and worship him,” Hoult said. “So I have every feeling that I would have as someone impressed with what Ralph does and has done, I just have to be a fanboy on set and use that.”
Mylod, who considers his palate “limited”, knew that his collaborators behind the scenes would be as essential as those in front of the camera in creating this deceptively complex world, including securing “Mulholland Drive” cinematographer Peter Deming. , which could find the tension. in the framework of. The creator of “Chef’s Table”, David Gelb, participated in the staging of some “food porn” shots. And Dominique Crenn, the chef and owner of a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco, came on board to offer advice on all aspects of the environment, from food to how certain characters might behave in a restaurant.
“I was a little nervous around (Dominque) and didn’t talk to him much,” Chau said. “But she kinda snuck up next to me one day and was like, ‘I love what you do. What you do is like, on the spot. I love how clean you are, clean and sleek, and I want you to come work for me.
Chau was a major architect of her character, which was a bit limited on the page and inspired by all the “funky people” she saw around Portland, Oregon, while filming “Showing Up” there. Elsa was originally meant to look very simple, very beige and blend into the landscape.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is a bummer. This is a real, real bummer,’ Chau said. “I was stubborn and kind of dug my heels in and just explained the biography that I kind of made up for her.”
The film’s costume designer Amy Westcott, who is married to Mylod, loved Chau’s vision and helped develop her striking outfit, which looked Victorian and assertive, but also clean and professional.
“They completely ambushed me, and I’m really glad they did,” Mylod said. “They were both absolutely right.”
Some of those who have seen “The Menu” latched onto the class dynamics of the restaurant’s employees and its incredibly wealthy customers and drew “eat the rich” comparisons to films like the award-winning “Parasite.” Oscar, and “Triangle”, winner this year of Cannes. sadness. Mylod thinks it’s a bit reductive though.
“A direct ‘skewer the rich’ is a low hanging fruit, I think,” he said. “I tend to approach things more from a character perspective rather than necessarily sociologically as a whole. These guests, for the most part, are appalling characters and deeply flawed characters, but it’s their flaws that I really find interesting because how did they get there? How does their ego distort their more vulnerable innocent selves to get there? And what does it take to take that away? That’s the journey that the leader’s job tries to take from them. live that night.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.