Over the past couple months, two distinctly different movies have been released into theaters: one is a nerve-wracking thriller, the other is an uncomfortable drama with two Oscar-nominated performances at the center.

Of all American cities, both movies make reference to Waterloo, IA.

The movies are The Menu and The Whale, both released to critical praise and both appearing on more than a few "best of 2022" lists. The Menu is currently streaming on HBO Max, and The Whale is playing in theaters, hot off Oscar nominations for actors Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, and makeup/hairstyling.

What are The Menu and The Whale About?:

The (spoiler-free) plot summary of The Menu, per IMDB:

Expecting nothing less than the best of everything haute cuisine has to offer, a group of ultra-wealthy gastronomes with a demanding palate arrive at the Hawthorn: an exclusive culinary temple run by highly regarded gourmet chef Julian Slowik. And prepared for an exquisite multiple-course meal and the experience of a lifetime, obsessive epicurean Tyler and his unimpressed plus-one Margot enter the private minimalist restaurant [....] However, no one knows that the cryptic genius in the kitchen has big plans for tonight. After all, the imperious culinary artist has been stretching the boundaries of taste and fine dining for decades. Now, the host can finally unveil his magnum opus. But is the blasé clientele ready for Julian's creative madness?

The (spoiler-free) plot summary of The Whale, per IMDB:

A reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.

What's the Waterloo Connection?:

In The Menu, renowned Chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes, prepares elaborate dishes for his wealthy clientele. Prior to one of the courses, Chef Slowik (who comes across as a more-extreme Gordon Ramsey, if you can believe that) reveals the dish's connection to his roots in Waterloo, IA. He talks about one fateful "Taco Tuesday," a staple at Mexican restaurants during his childhood.

To say more runs the risk of spoilers, but Slowik's brief retelling of his Waterloo roots makes for a strong monologue and a nail-biting dinner scene.

In The Whale, Brendan Fraser's morbidly obese Charlie is visited by a Christian missionary named Thomas, played by Ty Simpkins. The film is set in Idaho, but Thomas keeps informing the characters he is not from the area. When he finally does give his origins story, he reveals he's from... you guessed it: Waterloo, IA. I won't reveal anything further because those details do come relatively late into the movie.

It's also worth noting that both The Menu and The Whale star Hong Chau, as if the Waterloo connection wasn't bizarre enough!

As of now, The Menu is currently streaming on HBO MaxThe Whale is playing in theaters across the country.

Our Freedom Story mural - downtown Waterloo

Take a walk along the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo to view this 3,000-square-foot mural of the city's civil rights history shown abstractly through lines, shapes, and colors. Located behind the Waterloo Center for the Arts (near the Highway 63 bridge). Created by the Waterloo Youth Art Team.

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