Director Miguel Arteta and writer
Mike White have teamed up again for
another squirm-inducing comedy and have provided a strong for a talented
actor in the process. Unfortunately, Beatriz at Dinner employs an easy
target (rich, clueless white people) and surrenders to the hopelessness
of its premise. It's a perfect film for the Trump Era, but not
necessarily a satisfying experience.
Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, a Healer who spends her days treating the
terminally ill, lives in her humble Alta Dena home with her pets,
including a noisy goat.
Hired by the wealthy mother Cathy (Connie
Britton) of one of her cancer patients to provide an at-home massage,
Beatriz finds herself stuck at Cathy's mansion when her car won't start.
Cathy and her uptight husband Grant (David Warshofsky) are hosting a
dinner party that night and Cathy, who feels such a strong connection to
Beatriz for helping her daughter, insists she stay for dinner.
This would all seem very nice if it weren't for the fact that we
learned earlier that someone has killed one of Beatriz's goats, and this
inner turmoil will carry over into her day. Cathy and Grant have
invited over two rich couples, Trump-esque land baron Doug Strutt
(played by John Lithgow) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker), and Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) and her young turk husband
Alex (Jay Duplass). They've come together to celebrate a
shopping center development that will displace some animal life.
This, of course, disgusts Beatriz, who dives headlong into confronting
this gaggle of somewhat coarsely-drawn idiots. She stands out from this
chic crowd as she's dressed in khakis and a polo shirt and waits
awkwardly on the periphery before being introduced.
Naturally, the casual racism inherent within this group allows for
someone like Strutt to assume she's part of the house staff.
Mike White and Miguel Arteta do a terrific job with the uncomfortable material during this
section. Although every insensitive interaction with
Beatriz rings true, we're dealing with a fairly one-note cast of
characters, with Hayek and Lithgow being the exceptions. Sure, people
like Landecker's character will change the subject of class differences
to a pop culture, but when we know so little about her, it comes off as
slightly cartoonish. She's such a great actor that she manages to make
Jeana memorable and entertaining, but it's still thin.
For much of the film, we watch as Beatriz wakes up and realizes how
screwed the world is when the people in power have so little regard for
the working class. Hayek brings a huge amount of empathy to her role,
blossoming in close-up after close-up, communicating complex emotions
with great purity and ease. It's the most mesmerizing performance of
her career so far and makes the film worth seeing. Lithgow also nails
his scary mogul, slowly revealing the evil underneath the casual smarm. Beatriz at Dinner works for its first two thirds as an entertaining, sad
look at the class struggle.
With every slight, every ignorant or entitled declaration, we feel
Beatriz die just a little.
The third act, however, goes off the rails a bit, playing more to
Beatriz's weaknesses instead of her strengths. Many may view her as a
depressed killjoy, while others will see a brave warrior. Neither
opinion is wrong, and the film tries to have it both ways with an ending
that likely won't satisfy anyone.