With The Menu, screenwriter Will Tracy and his longtime screenwriting partner Seth Reiss 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 idea for the story of The Menu originated when Tracy visited Bergen, Norway. He 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?’.”
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 time in 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 of maintaining 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.
In The Menu, 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.
Like its characters, The Menu is not what it appears to be from the outset. Each course unravels a new aspect of the story, allowing the viewer to take a wild, unexpected adventure along with Hawthorn’s guests. As a satirical thriller, the film reflects on deeper issues without being too didactic or overbearing. It’s dark and unnerving but fun as well.
Mylod hopes The Menu entertains while also spotlighting the impressive, undeniable level of artistry that exists within fine dining—a form of expression he has a newfound regard for thanks to the film.
“My takeaway was how incredibly hard it is to be at the top of your game and sustain that world,” he reflects. “I look at those chefs who maintain that level of artistry and invention and evolution. I have no idea how they do it, and there’s sheer, incredible work that goes into that from every level. From the people bringing your order to the people creating the menus, it’s an incredibly hard industry. To do that night after night, I have a huge respect for them. I hope the audiences will get a sense of that, as well.”
MARK MYLOD (Directed by)
Mark Mylod has been the executive producer on the first three seasons of “Succession” on HBO. He most recently won a DGA for his directing on the season three finale. He has also collected Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for the series and was just nominated for an Emmy award for his directing on season three. Some of his other credits include “The Affair”, “Game of Thrones”, and “Shameless”. Mylod resides in Brooklyn.
SETH REISS (Written and Executive Produced by)
Seth Reiss was born in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, in 1983 and graduated from Boston University in 2005. He is an Emmy nominated writer for his work on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and was formerly the head writer of The Onion.
WILL TRACY (Written and Executive Produced by)
Will Tracy is currently in an HBO overall deal and was part of the inaugural staff of HBO’s Emmy Winning “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, where he worked for four seasons, earning him three Emmy Award Nominations and two wins, as well as three WGA awards. He left after the 2018 season to join the season two staff of HBO breakout “Succession”. Will is a former editor of The Onion and while he loves his hometown of NYC, is ready to move for a great show.