Media Review: The Menu
BY KATARINA QUINN
The Menu has a refreshingly nuanced view of sex work; while its primary focus is not sex, it’s central character, Margot, is a provider. The movie tears apart the traditional use of sex workers as a prop in someone else’s story, instead giving Margot real agency and fluidly exploring the realities of our world and the nature of service with a satirical deadpan. The film follows a group of wealthy patrons at an opulent tasting table in a restaurant supported by an almost cult-like service staff that sources all of their ingredients from the otherwise uninhabited island. The impeccably planned menu is disrupted by a last-minute date substitution—Margot has replaced Tyler’s recent ex, and Chef’s odd reaction to the change adds to the growing sense of unease. As the courses come and go and bodies start dropping, what they thought would be a delicious meal turns into a fight for survival.
Margot’s foil, Tyler, is a prime example of a terrible client—while he showers Margot with praise for her appearance and “cool” vibe, he continually talks over her, rejects her opinions, and says out loud the fact that he’s paying her means he can treat her however he wants. This type of behavior is often tolerated or even celebrated in the media; refreshingly, The Menu seems to denounce his treatment of Margot, as both she and Chef insist she shouldn’t be treated or spoken to that way . While his character is a bit too unrealistic to be truly representative of society’s views of sex workers (purposely going to a dinner where you know you’ll be murdered isn’t exactly sane behavior, after all), his lack of regard for her humanity is at times startlingly truthful. His character’s big reveal—that he knew everyone there would die when he hired Margot—left me breathless; his clear opinion that she’s irrelevant, an animal whose life or death is meaningless to him, is a direct reflection of how we’re often treated and viewed as sex workers.
Chef’s treatment of her is markedly different. Though he immediately clocks her as a sex worker, intuitively knowing she doesn’t belong there, it is not in a negative way. In fact, he empathizes with her. His insistence that she choose a side—service worker or patron—reveals a crucial nuance of the liminal space we occupy, someone at once seemingly a part of the upper echelon, yet whose presence is only allowed because we provide a service to them. Sex workers are commonly found in spaces inhabited by the uber-wealthy, and to an outside eye it might even look as if we belong there, but that access is highly conditional and a privilege not granted to all sex workers. The parallels between Chef and Margot abound; neither is referred to by their real name, both have raised themselves from humble beginnings to their current status. Neither, despite how far they’ve come, will ever truly belong with the restaurant’s cadre of impossibly selfish, status-obsessed clientele. By centering the film around the nature of the service industry and drawing Margot into that narrative, it implicitly states that sex work is real work, and reveals the stark inequality between the upper class and the people they hire.
Perhaps it’s this connection with Chef that assists in her escape. More though, I think, the movie’s finale shows her being good at her job. With ease she figures out what he wants—to feel the joy of cooking again—and gives it to him. These are core skills in the industry: fulfilling fantasies, reviving youth and excitement.
Then, of course, is the most delicious of trope reversals. Usually when a sex worker shows up in a movie, we know they are going to die. The Menu gives us a far more satisfying ending, in which Margot is the only one to survive. It’s a fitting finale for a film that, above all, paints Margot as a real, sympathetic human who deserves to be treated with respect.