by Lauryn Kahn
Fox Searchlight Pictures
CW/TW: This is a horror movie about cannibalism and terrible dates. So be ye warned.
We are recapping The Whole
Meal Film here so get ready.
Maya and I share an interest in horror, and goodness knows the Pink Palace of Bitches is full of people with an interest in Sebastian Stan. Accordingly, we took a break from romance (this movie is NOT A ROMANCE!) and watched a movie that says that dating is Hell, friendship is magic, feminism should be intersectional, and some people are gross.
This entire movie plot is spoiler territory so if you want to go in unspoiled, look away, people, because Maya and I are spoiling it ALL.
Behold: Black Women Have to Do Everything: The Movie, more officially known as Fresh, written by Lauryn Kahn and directed by Mimi Cave. Always happy to see women behind the camera!
SPOILERS AHOY WE MEAN IT.
Our story begins with Noa, a sweet, petite White woman played by Daisy Edgar-Jones. Noa is about to give up dating when she meets the handsome and charming Sebastian Stan in a grocery store and they hit it off.
His character is named Steve, and you cannot tell me that the screenwriter did not know what they were doing when they named him. I find it hilarious.
The joint viewing begins. Maya has lemon cupcakes and wine. I am jealous of both.
The movie opens on the Date From Hell, a date which was doomed before it began because the dude has already asked Noa to bring cash for dinner and he is, apparently, late.
Even though this date is, on the surface, a normal shitty date, it tidily sets the tone for the rest of the movie by establishing certain things:
- Men are unpredictable and women have to be on edge all the damn time.
- The date seems awful and yet his calling Noa a “stuck-up bitch” at its conclusion is a moment of verbal violence that stuns Noa and viewer with its sudden escalation.
- On the other hand, the figure we expect to be violent, that of a shadowy person walking behind Noa as she goes to her car, keys laced between fingers (don’t do that, you guys!) is a friendly individual with a baby.
- Food can be an avenue of pretension and control.
- Women are expected to back up other women, as seen in a moment of camaraderie between Noa and the waitress.
Maya: I would note, because I’m going to continue to be skeptical of the feminist bona fides of this movie, Noa says nothing while Chad of the Scarf Covered in Noodle Sauce says racist nonsense about/to the Asian waitress.
Giving a BIPOC the “God, he’s the worst” look isn’t allyship!
Carrie: That is an excellent point.
We now proceed to boxing class, where we meet Noa’s Black Best Friend, Mollie, and get to see her and Noa unpacking that “Disney Bullshit.”
“Fuck the Beast! I am the beast!” says Noa, laughing. I need this on a T-shirt.
To me, the friendship between Noa and Mollie feels lived in because they do things I do with my friends, particularly telling each other they love each other and checking up on each other for safety. I like that the important relationship in the movie is between Noa and Mollie, not between Noa and a romantic partner.
I also like that there are hints of Mollie having her own life – but they are merely hints. In narrative terms Mollie exists only to be Noa’s bestie. This is a common rom-com trope but it has added problematic layers because Mollie is the only Black woman, and one of the only two Black characters, in the movie.
Steve shows up in a grocery store and talks Noa into eating a grape and giving him her number. This is weird.
Maya: Confession, I’m not into Sebastian Stan!
Carrie: Well, then you will find the end of this film to be very satisfying.
Maya: Another confession! While this scene was going on, you and I were like LOL who gets hit on in a grocery store.
And then, I just remembered: I do, but only when my tattoos are covered! I like to mentally block out men hitting on me when they are trying to get between me and my jalapeño cheddar bagels.
Maya: Date number two has the pair in Noa’s apartment eating take out. Steven, being a totally chill, normal human being turns down Noa’s offer of short ribs by ominously saying he doesn’t eat animals. Because Noa is ridiculous, she immediately makes moves like she’s going to toss her entire meal out and acts like Steve thinks she’s unclean.
This just in: you can fuck a vegan without also being a vegan. Eat those short ribs, girl!
Carrie: WHAT?! That can’t be true!
I’m kidding. It is true. I’m a vegetarian and not once has anyone stopped eating meat in front of me just because I’m a vegetarian, nor would I expect them to. Noa is being weird. Stop that, Noa!
Steve tells Noa they should dance. It is awkward.
Maya: FUCK this is some awkward, rhythm-less dancing!
And I CANNOT believe she is going to go away on a trip with some stranger after the second date.
Maya: Poor Mollie, who exists to say expositional things that REALLY CRITIQUE (so intersectional!) the form and structure of the movie and horror movies in general, says “Wooooowwwwww this is really a straight girl’s dream,” after getting the recap from Noa on her date with fake-vegan Steve.
Also NOTHING about this movie has been a straight girl’s dream come true.
- Girl has a terrible date
- Girl realizes that she can’t even go grocery shopping without being hit on
- Girl tries to give up on SHORT RIBS
- Girl dances like she just took a shit in her overalls.
Carrie: OK, Maya, I gotta disagree with you on this one. As a fellow White girl with low self-esteem, in my early 20’s I was so desperate for any romantic attention whatsoever that I would have LOVED to have realized after only one date that I now had a boyfriend who gave oral sex and made me laugh.
Maya: Noa and Steve set out on their get-away weekend. If Steve had a mustache he would be twirling it right now.
Steve changes their plans and Noa just passively goes along with it.
The entire movie could really just be “…and Noa passively goes along with it.”
Carrie: Mollie wants Noa to let her know when she gets where she’s going with Steve, which, yes, this is a thing that women do. My husband tells me men don’t do that. Baffling. Men live in such an alien world.
Maya: OH YEAH. Once I was in Vegas with a bunch of classmates and this one dude got kicked out of the club were were in for being too drunk and all the women I was with were like Ok, time to go, we can’t let him be by himself, but all the dudes (who were his close friends!!) were like, nah he’s fine, and so then we let him wander Vegas drunk for like 10 hours alone!! He was fine and had tons of fun from what he could remember. I’m still well and truly baffled.
Carrie: So now the plot has Taken a Turn and Noa is chained in Steve’s weirdly decorated basement. Not to victim blame but I feel sure I could get out of those cuffs. Noa zips through your standard anger/panic/denial for a while.
Maya: Oh, yeah, using your stern White lady voice absolutely makes cannibal serial killers rethink their life choices.
So this is Hansel and Gretel with ugly boyfriend jeans?
Carrie: That, and oral sex.
Steve explains that he has kidnapped Noa and is going to eat her.
One of the reasons this movie works for me is that Sebastian Stan is able to nail the sincerity and depth of Steve’s narcissistic delusions. He is able to project that he really does like Noa, and he’s going to eat her, and he really doesn’t see the dissonance there. No clue.
He really thinks that after she gets done pouting for a while they will be pals again, and that he is a very reasonable and generous person. It’s creepy and funny at the same time. And Sebastian seems to have SO MUCH FUN with it!
Steve sends Mollie a couple of fake texts to throw her off the scent, as it were.
Maya: My friends would know it’s not me because I never use just one exclamation mark!!!!!!!
And there is never a scenario in which I would voluntarily turn my phone off for a weekend.
Steve’s business plan is that he carves women up a little a time (so as to keep the meat as fresh as possible, oh, hey that’s the TITLE) and sends the meat to the 1% of the 1% along with a photo of the, uh, source, and some mementos, like their bras. Classy.
Maya: Meal boxes but for cannibals!! Late stage cannibal capitalism is the worst.
Carrie: Steve gives Noa chocolate cake and asks for a little smile. I would do a lot for that chocolate cake. Don’t waste the cake, Noa! He clearly thinks she’s unreasonable for being upset about being chained to a wall.
Amazing that we made it 46 minutes in without someone telling her to smile.
Maya: Better than a lot of workplaces I’ve been in!!!
Carrie: Mollie enlists her ex-boyfriend, Paul, to help her look for Noa. There are two Black people in this movie but they only talk about a White person – well, that and Paul’s facial hair.
Maya: LOLOLOL the funniest bit in the movie is Paul bragging that his beard is connecting now!!!
Maybe there will be a MESSSSSAGE in all this, but Mollie’s ENTIRE existence is centered around this friend.
- She’s at the gym with Noa
- She’s at work, but talking to Noa
- She’s at a bar, but talking to her ex about Noa.
I can’t help but notice that this film so far fails the Racial Bechdel test.
Carrie: I had a theory that maybe all his victims were White because of racist patriarchal beauty standards but that is clearly not the case once we see his trophy wall.
Maya: We may see the trophy wall and see that not all the victims are White, but how many of those women have voices? Or stories?
Carrie: I love how he tries to argue that the person who is having their body dissected and sold for meat is some kind of beautiful spiritual thing–that it’s all about giving yourself over to someone. His attitude tracks with so many patriarchal abuses.
Meanwhile, Mollie is captured, that’s not good. (I did in fact peek at Wikipedia when I watched this movie to make sure Mollie lives. Keep your teeth off Mollie, dude.)
Noa begins her strategy to manipulate Steve by asking what human meat tastes like so he starts cooking her dinners.
DATE PREPARATION MONTAGE ALERT
Steve wants Noa to “freshen up” for him and gives her a dress that, and I assume this is no coincidence, makes her look about twelve years old. In a movie which features a scene with someone’s ass being surgically removed, this dress is the most upsetting thing to happen.
Maya: FUCK. THAT DRESS IS TRAUMATIZING. I’d rather go back to montages of people eating humans.
YET ANOTHER MONTAGE, but this one ends with Noa chowing down on Steve’s dick and rubbing toothpaste in his eyes as a diversion!
Noa frees the other two women being held by Steven, including poor Mollie, who got her boob cut off trying to save her bestie. Everyone’s ready to kick Steve’s ass!
Pro tip, go for the achilles tendon if you are already in the neighborhood!
Carrie: FIGHT SCENE!
Paul shows up and nopes right out of there. He has seen this movie and knows his odds. I totally support Paul’s life choices.
The women finish off Steve (YAY!) I find it cathartic.
Then Noa wastes all the goodwill I gave her for devising a long con that would allow her to bite off Steve’s penis by wanting to go back for her phone. Ugh, Noa you don’t need your phone! You were doing so well! I was proud! Yet now you let me down!
Maya: Did I miss something? Why does Noa need her phone?
Ughhhhhh Steve’s wife makes an appearance and then tries to finish murdering Noa since her husband couldn’t. Poor Mollie is back to save her bestie (again), this time beating the wife to death with a shovel while yelling that it’s women like her that are the worst.
Poor Mollie. White supremacy is being a character solely written to yell out the subtext in case the audience was too busy on their phone to catch it. Happy International Women’s Day: let’s make sure the Black woman exists to save and educate us all!
Carrie: I’m reminded that, as someone in my age group once said, “Our generation is used to settling for scraps.” And as a cis-gender, heterosexual White woman, I have my own programming to deprogram that, if I’m not careful, causes me to promote scraps. Because I’m this movie’s target audience, it’s easy for me to get lulled into a sense of having all my basic entertainment needs met with some nice intersectional scraps to really make me feel smug about it. The movie is designed to create that feeling and it does it very well. It’s well acted and well-constructed and bold-types its messages so that a viewer in my demographic can have one’s cake and eat it, too, but it’s a trap.
I think the movie is cleverly constructed and I love Sebastian Stan’s performance. I also got a big rush out of seeing the Bad Guy getting defeated. However, the movie preaches intersectionality but portrays White feminism. In a medium in which “show, don’t tell” is the rule to live by, it doesn’t work as an intersectional statement.
Maya: Does it make me weird that my favorite thing was the shadowy system that existed to distribute human hamburgers? I have so many questions about logistics!
- Were they shipping the meat across state lines?
- How do they handle complaints about quality?
- Do they also have special customer service people that are also cannibals working a customer service line?
- OMG what if this was a franchise?????
Was the horned goat skull on the packaging an attempt to tie cannibalism to satanism? How do satanists feel about possibly being tied to cannibalism in a direct-to-streaming movie on Hulu? My favorite satanists mostly seem to like to troll the legal system in delightful ways, but also seem to have a great sense of humor, so maybe they wouldn’t take offense so much.
I think the success of this movie for the viewer will vary based on how charismatic you think Sebastian Stan is. Either you, as a general rule, love to watch anything he does, or you, like me, can’t really sink your teeth into (LOL) his work here and will instead spend the movie wondering how big the delivery area is for a cannibal meal kit.
Carrie: I agree, Maya, that this is a Sebastian Stan showcase. I also think Daisy Edgar-Jones gives a very good performance. The movie offers some observations about how dating is a meat market, but they aren’t subtle or examined. I would give this movie a…IDK, B-? Maybe C+?
Maya: Let’s go with C+.
No bonus points for the self-consciously performative attempt at intersectional feminism that ultimately reinforces the racist idea that the only story worth telling is one where the victim that matters is a thin cis het White woman.
Final Grade: C+. Mild Indigestion, Bitter aftertaste