Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu begins with a series of voicemails between Marc (Jan Cornet) and Raquel (Claudia Bassols), former lovers whose relationship is given a final chance via a dinner date at Chakula, a world-renowned Barcelona restaurant whose head chef, Mar (Vicenta N’dongo), has decided to close at the height of its success. Marc arrives, finds Raquel, and speaks purely in pleasantries. Likewise, various other characters arrive for dinner, each devised to layer a diverse group of bourgeois archetypes, from go-getter naïf Mina (Marta Torné), to cantankerous sage Comptessa (Fionnula Flanagan), to reserved intellectual Walter (Stephen Rea). These devices however, are less critical or satirical inclusions than requisite placeholders; Gual directs with a feigned effervescence that’s of a particularly privileged sort, reveling in stereotypical upper-class mores rather than offering anything critical or even particularly insightful about them. As such, it’s clear that Tasting Menu, or Food Porn: The Movie, is designed to be as pleasant, unchallenging, and ephemeral as possible—to be viewed in a state of amused leisure, likely by those who fashion themselves by-proxy attendees at such a dinner because of their comparable class standing.
Were Tasting Menu merely the divertissement Gual likely had in mind, however, there would be little cause for ire. Yet, upon closer inspection, there’s a sinister, even insidious quality to a film that insists upon using incessant food montages not as a source of passion, but fodder for class-based self-congratulation; such sequences are in direct opposition to those in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which approaches its subject’s profession as sensual inquiry, not lingering auto-erotica. Moreover, guests arrive at Chakula with gentle sounds of waves quietly crashing in the background, supplementing hollow conversations with an un-ironic, idyllic aural register. (Gual is apparently from the Garry Marshall school of filmmaking, as Tasting Menu deserves direct comparison to films like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve for its thoroughly sanitized and saccharine offering of beautiful people in troubled relationships.) To make matters worse, the film’s third act is spawned from news that the ship carrying everyone’s dessert has sunk, which insufferably sends various characters running to the beach for more mindless conversations amid rescue attempts of the crew. Once there, Tasting Menu’s sins are both confirmed and amplified by a concluding series of events that zap any remaining scarcities of textual ambiguity or nuance.