Qualley seems to be getting better every time. Her work in “Maid” was spectacular, and this is arguably her best film performance to date, refusing to lean into clichés about sex workers and finding such complex scope in this fascinating character, someone who might be the hired hand in this dynamic, but which has all the control. Yes, Hal pays Rebecca and even writes the scripts, but she knows that Exactly how to push his buttons. Even if you pay someone to pull your strings, they are the ones pulling. And Qualley absolutely nails a part that’s much harder than it looks, making Rebecca sly, sexy, and riveting. Abbott matches her in every beat, and it’s the chemistry between the two that really gives the film its kinetic energy. There is something so exciting about watching two artists play a tennis match with performances like this enhanced by their opponent’s athleticism.
A similar chemistry nourishes Mark Mylods “The Menu,” while viewers enjoy how many stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes were clearly inspired by each other and engaged in a wickedly satirical pas de deux about the superficial consumerism that often comes from the cultural elite and how there are no winners when creative pursuits like cuisine become over-commoditized. Mylod is a TV veteran, and his work on “Succession” likely influenced this hilarious, vicious satire that starts out as comedy but quickly turns into gory horror. “The Menu” feels like it could have been inspired by one of Roys’ adventures in overconsumption, where the concept of a ridiculously overpriced, pretentious high-concept restaurant was taken to violent extremes. It’s a bit embedded in the narrative, but Mylod allows his characters to wander and monologue a bit more than he should have. I’m not 100% convinced that this movie has as much to say about high society as it thinks it does, and yet it’s an undeniably fun movie, a movie with almost no heroes. Eat the rich indeed.
The rich here include Tyler (a wonderfully clueless Nicholas Hoult), someone so committed to his foodie identity that he is blind to almost everything else. He would literally go down with the Titanic if there was a famous chef on board still cooking. And this obsession allows him to take his date Margot (Taylor-Joy) for granted. She was a last-minute addition to the evening’s adventure, a trip to a world-famous, secluded island restaurant called Hawthorne, where they are met by the mysterious manager Elsa (Hong Chau, having a killer TIFF with his work here and in “The Whale”). She escorts Tyler, Margot and the other guests into the dining room with an open kitchen aesthetic where they will enjoy a 4.5 hour meal. It may be their last.