A couple, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), travel to a coastal island in the Pacific Northwest to eat at an exclusive restaurant, Hawthorn, where the reclusive, globally celebrated Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish tasting menu for select special guests. Joining the couple are three young, already inebriated tech bros, Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr), an older wealthy couple and repeat clients, Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney), renowned restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her slavish magazine editor Ted (Paul Adelstein), and a famous middle-aged movie star (John Leguizamo) with his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero). Hosted by the immaculately dressed front of house staff led by general Elsa (Hong Chau), the evening unfolds with increasing tension at each of the guest tables as secrets are revealed and unexpected courses are served. With wild and violent events occurring, Slowik’s motivation begins to rattle the diners as it becomes increasingly apparent that his elaborate menu is designed to catalyze to a shocking finale.
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A few years ago, while visiting Bergen, Norway, screenwriter Will Tracy (“Succession”) took a boat to a fancy restaurant on a nearby private island. “I’m a bit claustrophobic, and as we sat down to eat, I saw the boat that dropped us off leaving the dock,” Tracy recalls. “It was a small island. And I realized, ‘Oh, we’re stuck here for four hours. What if something goes wrong?’.”
Tracy brought the idea to his longtime screenwriting partner Seth Reiss (“Late Night with Seth Meyers”), and together the pair conceived a satire with a story structure matching the narrative beats to the courses of a high-end restaurant’s tasting menu. From amuse bouche to dessert, ratcheting up tension and amplifying the unusual circumstances while retaining authentic elements of the hospitality industry.
The script made its way into the hands of producers Adam McKay and Betsy Koch. The satirical thriller was in line with the pair’s other recent work at Hyperobject Industries, including McKay’s climate change parody Don’t Look Up and director Mimi Cave’s dark comedy Fresh. “Adam and I are always looking for sharp satire and unconventional genre films, and this had both in spades,” Koch says. “I read the script and it was the first timein a really long time that I read any script twice in a row. I sent it to Adam and from there it was about convincing Will and Seth to let us produce this movie.”
“I loved how the script combined humor and biting satire,” McKay adds. “It was fun but dark, and it indicted an exclusive culture in a surprising way. It reminded me of The Trouble with Harry in tone and humor—which is one of my all time favorite movies. The film mixes biting class satire with humor, darkness and a healthy dash of absurdity. Does that sound like a recipe? I swear I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Satire gives you purchase to operate on a slightly heightened reality,” Reiss continues. “It opens the door for fiction, though it all makes logical sense within the reality we’re creating – everything flows from that world.” The screenwriters then sent the script to Mark Mylod, who was immediately taken by the characters and the approach to the restaurant world. Well-known as a television director for Emmy® Award winning series like “Game of Thrones” and “Succession”, Mylod had also previously worked on a particular episode of Succession” written by Tracy. That episode was largely set at a dinner party, and for that Mylod had embraced an approach inspired by Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, which he also brought to The Menu. “We wanted to be really careful in skewering the industry and walked this tightrope, poking at it while remaining deeply respectful of the artform and the humans who are involved,” Mylod notes. “When I got involved, I did my own personal dive into that world to educate myself on how it worked and the level of commitment and the stress ofmaintaining that extraordinary level of art night after night. It destroys people. It’s incredibly high pressure.” The writers and Mylod ultimately brought a sense of humanity and emotion to each character – even those who seem unlikeable.