One of the benefits of doing movie reviews is that sometimes you get a chance to see something truly outstanding, and then you get to encourage others to go and see it. Upon seeing the trailer for Beatriz at Dinner, I was very excited for this to be one of those movies. It has an established writer (Mike White), an experienced director (Miguel Artega), who has worked with the writer on several projects. It brings in the furor of conservative versus liberal politics to a stage and gives the roles to some incredibly dynamic actors (Salma Hayek and John Lithgow). And then… Well, it is like a firework that should be the main attraction of the display, but it sputters, veers off sideways and ends in a muffled and bizarre pop.
Beatriz is played by Salma Hayek, in perhaps her least glamorous role to date, a worn and frazzled massage therapist and holistic healer who works for a cancer center in L.A., where she met Cathy (Connie Britton) and Grant (David Warshofsky) through their sick daughter. Beatriz is painted as a saint of healing who saved their daughter’s life when Western medicine was failing. She is held in such high regard, that Beatriz has taken Cathy on as a private client. On the night that the film captures, Beatriz has come to give Cathy a massage prior to a dinner party they are having. (Party planning is stressful!) Beatriz’ car breaks down and she finds herself invited to dinner.
As the guests, Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny), start to arrive the tensions begin to build as the haves begin to find themselves confronted by the calm persistence of the one have not. By the time the embodiment of all things Republican arrives in the form of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) we are braced for a battle of ideologies, hoping that liberal Hollywood doesn’t make it too one sided in Beatriz’ favor.
Beatriz and Strutt were, for me, the two ends of a pendulum swing from where I stand closer in the middle. Beatriz is a believer of “Woo” and the crystals and healing energy that make me cringe, as they have no basis in science, and her belief that everything has meaning and connectedness and is meant to be. Strutt, on the other end, is the paragon of wealth, having no care for how money comes into his coffers, so long as it does so without too much nuisance, and without the interference of people who are trying to prevent his advance.
There are verbal jabs and barbs between the two, with the rest of the guests caught in the middle, and the hosts aghast that their imagined sainted Beatriz would act in such an uncouth manner at their affair. There is an allusion that Beatriz may have been ousted from her home in Mexico by one of Strutt’s business dealings. There is the hint of a conspiracy to hide facts about the development that the dinner party is being thrown to celebrate. And it all seems to be leading up to a big showdown, in which we expect, in true, happily-ever-after, fashion, to find that Strutt does have a heart after all and will do the right thing. Sadly, this never happens.
The performances are nuanced and compelling, and they drive the story forward, even with its rickety framework and bits falling to the wayside wherein we never really find anything out. The cinematography and the location makes one wish for some ill-gotten wealth in order to afford such panoramic views and luxurious surroundings.
Beatriz at Dinner:
About Beatriz at Dinner
Synopsis: A holistic medicine practitioner attends a wealthy client’s dinner party after her car breaks down.
Director: Miguel Artega
Writer: Mike White
Stars: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, and Chloe Sevigny
Runtime: 1 hour, 23 Minutes