Janet McTeer delivers an underrated performance as food critic Lillian Bloom in The Menu, capturing her character’s self-importance and critical nature through subtle expressions and physicality.
- McTeer’s layered depth shines through as Bloom unravels, expertly transitioning between different emotional registers and showcasing her character’s desire for dominance and control.
- McTeer’s comedic ability is on full display in The Menu, effortlessly delivering lines with authentic nonchalance and recentering the film’s comedic tone during darker moments, striking a perfect balance between darkness and humor.
If there is one thing The Menu is not short on, it’s fabulous performances. Since the film’s release, much praise has been dished out for Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of the film’s protagonist, Margot; Ralph Fiennes has been given stars as the nightmarish Chef Julian Slowik; and of course, 2022’s undisputed breakout performer, Hong Chau, gives cinema’s best line reading of the word “tortillas” in her work as Slowik’s assistant, Elsa. Despite all the acclaim awarded to each of these deserving actors who make up the stellar cast, not enough attention has been given to one of the film’s most subtle but richly complex performances. Without question, The Menu’s most underrated performance is Janet McTeer’s as pretentious food critic Lillian Bloom.
When McTeer’s food critic first enters the picture, her appearance is precede by Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) dumbfoundingly saying, “Holy fucking shit. Lillian Bloom. Oh, my God.” Tyler’s line laps over the edit, leaving his awestruck mention of her name to be heard as she walks into the frame. With her head slightly raised, Bloom glides across the dock, with an austere expression. She walks slightly in front of her colleague, Ted (Paul Adelstein), whom she dominates throughout the film. Paired with Tyler’s dialogue, and her position in front of Ted, McTeer’s physicality immediately establishes the character’s sense of self-importance.
Bloom’s pompousness is brought to life by McTeer’s commitment to the character’s scrutinous behavior. Throughout Slowik’s presentation of the first course, Bloom maintains a censorious stare at either the chef or his waitstaff. McTeer’s sustaine expression fully communicates her character’s critical nature with even the briefest of appearances on screen.
Bloom’s critical nature is supporte by McTeer’s stunningly subtle expressivity. When evaluating the first course with Ted, Bloom quickly snaps out a series of critiques of the plate, leading to her searching for an adjective to describe the course and settling on the term “thalassic.” McTeer lets the subtlest of smug smirks cross her face as Bloom determines her preferred descriptor, demonstrating just how self-satisfied her character is with her own vocabulary. McTeer then makes this expression just slightly more pronounced, and leans forward with a head nod, when Bloom comes up with the phrase, “We’re eating the ocean.” Comparing these two similar beats within one scene demonstrates just how expertly McTeer layers her performance, bringing multiple tiers to Bloom’s predominant personality trait.
Janet McTeer Brings Layered Depth to Her Supporting Character
McTeer’s ability to create a layered character is especially evident as her character unravels. During the second course, Elsa brings Bloom a large bowl full of “another broken emulsion,” referencing Bloom’s earlier comment that one of her breadless bread plate accompaniments was broken. When Bloom receives the bowl, McTeer widens her eyes, and twitches her lips, faintly expressing her character’s shaken response to her own words. Bloom regains a sense of control when Slowik quotes one of her reviews, but she is again startle when Slowik says he is not sure what her review actually meant. McTeer expertly moves from one emotional register to the next, when her smug smile at Slowik’s quotation shifts into a slightly confuse glance toward Ted.
After the fourth course, in which Slowik’s sous-chef Jeremy (Adam Aalderks) shoots himself in front of the guests, Bloom leaves her seat, frazzle by the violence. However, as the other guests are starting to unravel, Bloom sees an opportunity to establish dominance among the other diners. Even though she was just seen shaken and confuse, Bloom is now trying to convince the other patrons that the death by suicide was simply an act of stagecraft. McTeer’s attention to detail brilliantly exposes Bloom’s internal feelings. After trying to get the other guests to believe her, Bloom is captured in a memorable second-long shot. In this shot, McTeer touches her fingertips to her collarbone and breathes in, showing Bloom actively trying to regain her composure. McTeer’s ever-so-subtle gesture allows audiences to pick up on the character’s performance of control, bringing a surprising amount of depth to a supporting role.
Janet McTeer Perfectly Understands ‘The Menu’s Dark Comedy
In her performance as Bloom, McTeer, throughout, demonstrates her comedic ability to “throw it away,” as the comedy adage goes. Lines of dialogue that could easily be playe up as punchlines, are handle with authentic nonchalance by McTeer, like in the scene where Slowik denies his patrons bread.
Bloom follows her claim that Slowik has “always been keenly aware of food as a history of class,” with the remark, “I mean, as have I,” before quickly returning to a critique of the food. A less expert actor likely would have playe up the haughtiness of that line, but McTeer is so skilled at her comedic delivery that not only is she able to deliver the line without excessive affect, but she also does not even need to be facing the camera when she says it — the line comes in a reverse shot on Ted.
McTeer also manages to recenter the film’s comedic tone during its darker moments.
As the guests are brought outside to participate in “Man’s Folly,” the camera makes its way across the line-up of diners. When it reaches Bloom and Ted, she says, “We’re going to die tonight.” But even though reality is setting in for the rattle characters, McTeer’s straightforward delivery, and her playful rhythm with Adelstein, makes the line read as laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Additionally, when sous-chef Katherine (Christina Brucato) serves the female diners the sixth course, Bloom attempts to manipulate the sous-chef. After tasting the dish, Bloom gives Katherine a series of compliments about the food. McTeer cleverly uses multiple, brief smiles as she commends Katherine’s course. These smiles reflect a sharp contrast to the smug smirks that she used earlier in the film, signaling to the audience that these are insincere evaluations. Bloom then, with McTeer giving a full smile, tries to convince Katherine that she could help her open a restaurant if the guests do not die at Hawthorn.
However, after Katherine tells Bloom that killing all the guests was her pitch, Bloom loses the pretense.
McTeer drops her facial expression and dryly asks the other women, “Does anyone want any wine? Fuck it.” Again, McTeer yields some of the biggest laughs in the film because of her ability to balance the darkness and the humor of The Menu’s dark comedy with ease.
Though McTeer’s performance in The Menu has gone under-recognize since the film’s initial release, there is no doubt that she fully eats, and leaves no crumbs, as food critic Lillian Bloom.