Beatriz at Dinner

, Jul 4, 2017

Massage therapist and altruistic holistic healer Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a 50-ish Mexican-born divorcee, lives frugally in Altadena and works at a clinic for cancer patients. She is so protective of her menagerie of pets that she keeps a goat tethered in her bedroom at night. She is currently having a rough time. Her neighbor shot one of her goats, and her old Volkswagen barely starts when she turns the ignition.

Nevertheless, she wears a perpetually beatific expression as she heads down the coastline to an exclusive Newport Beach enclave to give a massage to Cathy (Connie Britton), a wealthy client whose teenage daughter Beatriz helped nurse during her chemo treatments. As she is preparing to leave, her car breaks down in the driveway, so Cathy convinces her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), a contractor, to include Beatriz as a “friend-of-the-family” guest at a small dinner party they're hosting for Grant’s boss, Douglas Strutt (John Lithgow), a billionaire real estate tycoon who owns hotels and golf courses around the world. Therefore, Beatriz is isolated at the party where all involved are kissing the feet of “the boss” the well-named boorish “Strutt,” who arrives with his third, much younger wife Jeana (Amy Landecker), along with Grant’s junior colleague Alex (Jay Duplass) and his social climbing wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny).

After first mistaking Beatriz with her khaki pants, cheap blouse and halting English for a maid, Strutt asks her the most obnoxious question leveled at those who speak accented English “But where are you really from?” Later he further infuriates her by showing off iPhone photos of his latest ‘trophy’ hunt in Africa – in boastful poses that are very reminiscent of Eric and Donald Trump Jr.'s gloating over their ‘big game’ killings. (There are many cues that encourage us to read this character as Trumplike.) Animal-loving Beatriz initially swallows her resentment in silence. Later however, her inhibitions loosened by wine, she confronts Strutt. This could have been an interesting confrontation between polar opposites, passive-aggressive Beatriz burning with righteous indignation and the stereotypical vulgar capitalist. Their characters are caricatures, stand-ins for broad political philosophies. The movie attempts to capitalize on the gap between the left and the right and the “position” taken by the film-makers is obvious. Beatriz is pure and innocent, almost saintly and the other party guests especially Strutt, are smarmy, entitled and – oh – let’s go ahead and make these guys big-game hunters too. We get it. She protects animals. He kills them.

This parable is heavy-handedly written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow are strong actors but unfortunately their two superb performances get mired down in predictable melodrama. I don't mind a little lecture in a film to prove a point but some subtlety would be nice. Manipulative the movie is. Subtle it is not.

Beatriz at Dinner is not recommended. 


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