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Tasting Menu | Review

Finger Food: Gaul’s Latest Effort Staunchly Unappetizing

Roger Gaul Tasting Menu PosterSpanish filmmaker Roger Gaul (known for his 2002 debut, the co-directed Smoking Room) returns with this Irish co-produced venture, Tasting Menu, its cast dictated primarily by geographic funding. Utilizing the banal workings of several intersecting storylines over the course of one evening, this petit bourgeois offering is as unabashedly pretentious as it is stilted, attempting to jackdaw cinematic magic via food porn and various romantic clichés. Several notable cast members are as poorly served as their lesser known counterparts, an ensemble that can’t ever emulsify as neatly as Javier Clavo’s screenplay so desperately wants it to.

Chef Mar (Vicenta N’Dongo) is a reluctant celebrity in her realm, owner of a highly successful restaurant that seats only thirty and is booked for months in advance. However, after finding herself in a creative rut, she decides to close the restaurant, much to the chagrin of her business partner and maître ‘d Max (Andrew Tarbet), who manages to schedule a pair of competing Japanese buyers (Togo Igawa and Akihiko Serikawa) to attend the much publicized final night of the restaurant, escorted by the clueless Mina (Marta Torne). As Mar prepares a special surprise for the final menu, the last guests to ever eat at her prestigious restaurant arrive, including a widow in mourning that brings her husband’s ashes (Fionnula Flanagan), a mysterious stranger (Stephen Rea), and a couple (Jan Cornet and Claudia Bassols) that separated after they made the reservations, meeting for the first time in a year in order to attend.

Tasting Menu panders to a particular crowd—devotees of a sumptuous extravaganza of food and feeling in the fine tradition of other gourmet inspired fancies like Babette’s Feast, or even Stanley Tucci’s Big Night. But these references are only skin deep and extremely fleeting since it only successfully evokes emotion though the delectable dishes on display. True, there’s something to be said about winning someone’s heart through their stomach, but the contrived characters dull the palette enough to kill the appetite. Flanagan and Ray seem especially silly in their throwaway roles, even if they’re still engaging to watch (the stoic Togo Igawa gets to be demeaned by announcing his favorite singer as Lady Gaga for some cheap humor). Jan Cornet and Claudia Bassols seem to get the most attention from the camera, stuck in a scenario that had the possibility of being more interesting, but they’re hampered by the appearance of her new love interest, a distracting and terrible performance from Timothy Gibbs.

The multiple characters don’t get much time to unwind on screen, even as the build up to actually get them into their seats in the restaurant seems rather protracted. Thus, they’re all rather truncated into lazy doodles of familiar tics, some played for broad silliness (such as Torne, who is actually Gaul’s wife) or cheap drama (Flanagan’s ash-touting widow). What could have been an appealing premise is hampered by the insistent whimsy of melancholy goodbyes and hopeful promises of the future, something that requires time and patience in order to reach any sort of relevant care from the audience. Instead, we’re plopped into a mire of convenience and cliché, one whose narrative of inflated nothingness manages to override the promise of its visual delights.

★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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