Sam Rosenberg November 25, 2022 | 11:30am ET
Over these past few years, the phrase “eat the rich” has been accumulating quite a bit of popularity in our cultural lexicon. Originally an anticapitalist slogan coined by political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “eat the rich” has become more applicable than ever, used by the masses as a response to a growing dissatisfaction toward billionaires and other beneficiaries of the 1%.
It’s also been thematized heavily in contemporary pop culture, gaining traction starting in 2019 with the advent of films like the riveting Best Picture winner Parasite, the cat-and-mouse thriller Ready or Not, the star-studded whodunnit Knives Out, and the stripper crime comedy Hustlers. Each of these stories attempted to critique the systems and ideologies that drive and preserve the ever-widening wealth gap between the haves and have nots, with Parasite arguably being the platonic ideal of this socioeconomic commentary trend.
2022 has seen another uptick in “eat the rich” media: the absurdist Palme d’Or victor Triangle of Sadness, the foodie-skewering satire The Menu, and the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion. But where Triangle of Sadness’s parody of the upper class remains a mostly entertaining (if imperfect) romp, The Menu and Glass Onion reveals the limitations of what narrative storytelling can accomplish in condemning a demographic that could care less about being criticized.
Directed by Succession mainstay Mark Mylod and produced by Adam McKay, The Menu promises a delectably fun time — at least on the surface. Its plot centers around Margo Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy), her pompous gourmet boyfriend Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), and a series of wealthy guests who dine at an exclusive restaurant, located on a remote island and run by esteemed chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Along with his militant hostess Elsa (Hong Chau), and his strictly regimented kitchen staff, Julian prepares the guests for an evening of carefully curated conceptual cuisine, but eventually delivers some nefarious surprises that throws everyone for a loop.
While it boasts a duo of spiky performances from Taylor-Joy and Fiennes, The Menu’s take on “eat the rich” is disappointingly shallow, especially given that virtually every character is a broadly stroked cipher that embodies a certain type of bourgeois personality. The piecemeal nibbles of background we get of them feels intentional, a means of illustrating the vacuity and superficiality of their lifestyles, but their hollowness doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting narrative.
Because of these characters’ shallow nature, the film is a manipulative cop-out, an all-too-easy method of painting them in an unsympathetic light so that we can relish their inevitable comeuppance later on without feeling any remorse. The one intriguing if still somewhat flawed emotional throughline in The Menu is the relationship between Julian and Margo, a uniquely empathetic dynamic between two outsiders who clearly resent the insiders.