Qualley seems to just get better each time out. 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 range in this fascinating character, someone who may be the hired employee in this dynamic but has all the control. Yes, Hal pays Rebecca, and even writes the scripts, but she knows exactly how to push his buttons. Even if you’re paying someone to pull your strings, they’re doing the actual pulling. And Qualley totally 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’s something so thrilling about watching two performers play a tennis match of performance like this, made better by the athleticism of their opponent.
A similar chemistry feeds Mark Mylod’s “The Menu,” as viewers savor how much stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes were clearly inspired by one another, engaging in a wickedly satirical pas de deux about the shallow consumer culture that often comes from the cultural elite and how there are no winners when creative pursuits like cuisine become over-commodified. Mylod is a TV veteran, and his work on “Succession” likely influenced this funny, vicious satire, which starts as comedy but quickly turns into bloody horror. “The Menu” feels like it could have been inspired by one of the Roys’ adventures in over-spending, taking the concept of a ridiculously over-priced, pretentious high-concept restaurant to violent extremes. It’s embedded in the narrative a bit, but Mylod allows his characters to ramble and monologue a bit more than he should have. I’m not 100% convinced this film has as much to say about high society as it thinks it does, and yet it’s an undeniably fun flick, a movie with almost no heroes. Eat the rich indeed.
The rich here includes Tyler (a wonderfully ignorant Nicholas Hoult), someone so committed to his foodie identity that he’s blind to nearly 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 this evening’s adventure, a trip to a world-famous, secluded island restaurant named Hawthorne, where they are greeted by the mysterious manager Elsa (Hong Chau, having a killer TIFF with her 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 indulge in a 4.5-hour meal. It might be their last.