Guess Who’s Staying for Dinner? (Film Review: “Beatriz at Dinner”)

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Beatriz at Dinner is the sort of movie you might not want to watch with politically polar friends, unless you welcome the rousing debate this ‘dramedy’ of manners will invite to your dinner table.

SnapShot Plot

The classes collide in this clever, topical and unnerving film boasting an impressive ensemble cast led by Salma Hayek and Connie Britton, and featuring the venerable John Lithgow in a thankless role as an insufferable real estate mogul with plenty of blood on his hands. Hayek plays the titular Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant with an extremely empathic personality who works as a holistic healer and massage therapist in the tony climes of Newport Beach, CA. Among her clients is a wealthy couple, Kathy and Grant, whose daughter benefited acutely from Beatriz’s intervention when the girl was a teenager. Connie Britton’s Kathy is a delicious little tour de force portrayal of a woman who sincerely wants to be good, and in fact sees herself as a beneficent person who lives by the Golden Rule, but whose aura smacks of a certain Noblesse Oblige condescension in the takeaway. When Beatriz drives thru afternoon rush hour in her rundown vehicle to give Kathy a massage before her important dinner guests show up, the entire course of the evening changes dramatically when she can’t start her car again and Kathy insists she stay for dinner and join the party. The small group of vapid, self-important poseurs in attendance are bitingly portrayed by Chloë Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and John Lithgow. Lithgow’s aptly named character is Doug Strutt, a real estate tycoon who likes to collect trophies, be they shopping malls, hotels, wives or big game on the African Savannah. As the evening begins, these glittering guests are bemused by the presence of Beatriz, that is when they’re not objectifying or dismissing her or worse, talking over her. But with more and more wine, Beatriz begins to shed her ‘good immigrant’ cloak of meekness, and it’s not long before she and Doug are locked into a moral and ethical duel that erupts into a surprisingly violent action on Beatriz’s part, much to the embarrassment of the hosts, Kathy and Grant. But it doesn’t end there. Clearly the pressures in Beatriz’s life, mixed with the accumulated pain she absorbs from all she comes into contact with, have colluded on her psyche to the point where she’s become unhinged. So instead of the sympathetic character we think we’re supposed to root for throughout the film, Beatriz has devolved into a kind of moral bully of her own making, and someone whose self-righteousness has now made her dangerous.

 

 

Parting Shot

Written by Mike White (School of Rock; HBO’s Enlightened; Brad’s Status; Nacho Libre ) and directed with a deft touch by Miguel Arteta, Beatriz at Dinner may lose its steam with a shocking ending that many may interpret as a sellout, but until then it’s an intriguing dance around thorny topics such as immigration, gender & class inequity, and white privilege, just to name a few. And let’s not overlook the digs themselves; cinematographer Wyatt Garfield successfully captures the real estate porn in Kathy and Grant’s lifestyle in sweeping shot after shot of their grand estate.

Few actresses have a facial palette as exquisitely emotive as Salma Hayek, who carries this film in every pained expression that requires no words to convey how unraveled Beatriz is becoming, until she just can’t cope any longer. Agree or disagree with her decision, the film is an enticing blend of social dialogue and a reminder that people often defy expectations and resist labels.

Beatriz at Dinner is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJweqjIWtbg

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