For someone still relatively new to Hollywood, Anya Taylor-Joy rarely misses.
From her 2015 breakthrough performance in Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” to her star-making turn in Netflix hit “The Queen’s Gambit,” her still nascent career has consisted of mostly high-profile roles in critical darlings. Sure, last year’s hyper-stylized “Last Night in Soho” was a bit divisive, but it was a bold swing and she was as razor-sharp as ever. No longer just an indie darling, she smoothly transitioned into bigger-budget fare, furthering her collaboration with Eggers in the critically beloved epic “The Northman,” and recently wrapping George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” prequel “Furiosa,” set for a 2024 release.
And yet, what’s clear in yet another canny performance — this time in the wickedly delicious ensemble satire “The Menu” — Taylor-Joy is just getting started.
Set in a hyper-exclusive restaurant on a remote island only accessible by boat, “The Menu” is a fresh (and sometimes literal) take on eating the rich. Taylor-Joy plays Margot, the cool and collected date of food obsessive Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), whose blind fanaticism for the storied Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) borders on insanity. Unimpressed by her surroundings, Margot slowly reveals herself as an outsider amongst the other diners, who flaunt their privilege in ways both amusing and shocking.
In addition to the three compelling leads, “The Menu” boasts delicious supporting performances from Janet McTeer, Hong Chau, John Leguizamo, and Judith Light. They may be performing abject terror, but it’s clear everyone in “The Menu” was having a grand time.
“[The director] Mark [Mylod] wanted us to stay, I’m going to say ‘on stage,’ and in character all the time, because the camera was just moving around, so we were constantly improvising,” Taylor-Joy said during a recent interview. “Usually if there’s a close-up on somebody else, you’ll go and rest or I’d read, just something that will replenish your energy. But on this one, we all just stayed. Everyone just stayed and enjoyed having front-row seats to brilliant performances. Each table is its own little microcosm and world.”
As concerns about growing class division and inequality grow worldwide, the Hollywood elites are attempting to grapple with how to comment on their own privilege. Mike White’s “The White Lotus” became a runaway hit for the way it skewered the entitled rich, and Rian Johnson’s popular whodunnit “Knives Out” earned points for siding with the working class. Part black comedy, part horror, “The Menu” takes sharper aim at the wealthy, giving its social satire real teeth.
“I think it’s a dark comedy satire. I do think that if you’re a horror fan, you will enjoy it. You’ll get a kick out of certain moments and you’ll definitely hopefully have that thriller element that keeps you on your toes,” said Taylor-Joy. “But what I love the most is, forgive the food pun, this is a smorgasbord of everything for everyone. If you want to have a laugh, you’ve got it. If you want to have a scream, you’ve got it. If you want to be angry or potentially see some of yourself in a reflection, that’s in there. I love the fact that it’s a medley of all of those things.”
For those who might see themselves reflected, if not to the outlandish extremes “The Menu” portrays, take note.
“If people are constantly searching for these experiences and wanting to be impressed, and yet are so privileged that they don’t even understand that it is a privilege to experience it, you are insatiable,” she said. “Nothing is ever going to fulfill that for you, you are literally impossible to please. I just think that’s so sad because life is supposed to be enjoyed and luxury is supposed to be enjoyed. If you’re just doing it to have the cache, I don’t understand what you’re doing with your life and you’re robbing yourself of a lot of joy. … It drives me crazy, that kind of entitlement in people.”
Margot’s inscrutable place in the social order begins to stymie Chef Slowik’s carefully crafted menu, and he becomes fixated on the mysterious young woman who won’t eat his food. Long past his “English Patient” era, these days Fiennes is at his finest as a villain, and Taylor-Joy more than holds her own against his meticulous megalomaniac.
“What I love about Margo is it’s almost a performance within a performance, but she’s very good at her job and she enjoys her job, genuinely enjoys it. I think that that’s why her and Chef Slowik have such an interesting kinship,” she said. “They both went into something that they were really good at, were passionate about, and fit into their lifestyles. Because of the entitlement of the customer, it’s taken that joy out of it. I think that’s the thing that unites the two of them.”
Though she certainly hasn’t suffered from a lack of good roles, Taylor-Joy did see something rare in the character of Margot. She jumped at the chance to play such a confident, cool, no-nonsense woman.
“I just love the way that Margot lives her life. I think she’s so comfortable in her own skin and I haven’t played a lot of characters like that, so to be the one to call B.S. on the whole thing was pretty fun.”
“The Menu” is now in theaters.
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