Beatriz at Dinner is an arthouse film starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow, in a battle of worldviews between a poor Latina massage therapist and a condescending billionaire and his friends when she unexpectedly has to stay during a dinner party. It claims to be a comedy, but its forced message is heavy-handed, one-sided, largely laugh-free and with a shocking ending that will leave viewers more bummed than inspired.
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With “Transformers: The Last Knight” the only movie attempting a major release this weekend, I figured it would be obvious whether couples would be into 2 ½ hours of clashing metal and special effects, or not. So I’m taking a look at another artier movie this week, in an attempt to spotlight something different, but hope to hit major flicks again next week with “Baby Driver” and/or “The House.”
The media may tell us that the rich and powerful are the people to focus upon in society, while ignoring the far greater masses who just try to get through each day with their dignity intact. But the new movie “Beatriz at Dinner” tries to turn the tables on that equation by following an unwittingly key day in the life of a simple woman who finds herself in an unexpected philosophical showdown with a billionaire and his friends.
Beatriz at Dinner: The Plot
The movie opens on Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a single woman whose only source of companionship is her puppy and a couple of baby goats that she cares for in her modest home in a Los Angeles suburb. While she plays with and feeds them in the morning, she also meditates and lights candles before a picture of another pet goat that recently died.
Beatriz is a woman with a sweet but muddled sense of spirituality, with both a dancing Buddha figurine and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her ancient car as she drives to work at a Santa Monica cancer center. She’s a holistic caregiver, offering healing massages and yoga classes to her clients each day, hoping to help them ward off death through alternatives to the risks of chemotherapy.
After work, she makes the hours-long trek to a private client named Cathy (Connie Britton) in the ritzy town of Newport Beach to give her a massage before a big dinner party she and her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) are hosting for billionaire real estate developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). Cathy considers Beatriz to be practically a family member because she helped save the life of her daughter Tara, and is shocked to learn when Beatriz reveals that her next-door neighbor broke her goat’s neck.
When Beatriz finds herself stranded with her car dead in their driveway, Cathy pushes to invite her to stay for dinner against Grant’s wishes. As their snooty friends Alex (Jay Duplass) and Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) arrive before Doug and his wife, it becomes clear that Beatriz is out of her element – and when Doug shows up and treats her with dismissive condescension, the table is set for a slow-building battle of the minds.
A Dark Drama Billed as a Comedy
“Beatriz” bills itself as a comedy, and has strong credentials from its indie-gods team of writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, who have done much stronger work in the past with Jennifer Aniston’s “The Good Girl” and the terrific Ed Helms character comedy “Cedar Rapids.” But “Beatriz” is in actuality a deceptively dark drama, with a heavy-handed battle of social class, and of environmentalism versus capitalism, that portrays Beatriz throughout as a heart-filled saint and all the wealthy characters as heartless and shallow in their desire to destroy all that is good in the world.
The moral debates about being rich versus poor have been around since the dawn of mankind, and indeed, it is a major focus of the Bible’s teachings as well. But there is not an ounce of subtlety to be found here. The movie is clearly pushing a political rather than a moral agenda.
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The movie is only 83 minutes long, yet it takes forever to get going, spending a lot of setup time on pre-dinner conversations and an endless series of exchanges that are meant to convey the divisions between the two sides. Aside from Cathy, it seems that every comment by the well-to-do is intended as a heart-crushing dig at Beatriz, with the men in particular cackling with glee while sharing stories of rapacious business deals and the need to crush environmental protesters and smoking stogies.
It’s a shame, because Hayek is clearly giving a heartfelt performance, conveying Beatriz’s wounded soul and rendering a character who feels completely out of place not only with this rarefied household, but much of the world as a whole. Lithgow seems to be having fun being icily nasty, but there’s a fine line between satirizing a jerk and crossing the line into just being annoying, and he leaps right over it.
“Beatriz” winds up taking a shocking couple of turns in its final minutes, with events that take it far from the realm of comedy. That unfortunate set of circumstances winds up leaving Beatriz less sympathetic herself, and will likely leave all but the most ardently left-wing audience members more bummed than inspired.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is rated R for language and a scene of violence. It is in a few major cities now, and spreading wider in coming weeks. Not dateworthy.