Beatriz at Dinner is one of those movies that would be easy to ignore. The posters for the film are artistic, but not exactly eye-catching. It is comedy/drama that may be a bit too subtle for those who prefer in-your-face humor. The writing is witty, the photography is elegant and it tells (mostly) a good story albeit a bit short. So, while many others will let this one slip by, you shouldn’t
Beatriz at Dinner has a lot to say during its 83 minutes of storytelling as does so at a slow burn making the film more uncomfortable as it plods along towards its climax. Though Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is the main character it takes two to tango and in this case, Beatriz’s sparring partner is Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). The two couldn’t be more opposite presenting two points of view with those in the audience finding themselves somewhere in the middle.
Beatriz is an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico. She is very humble and often thinks of others before herself. She is a holistic healer who spends much of her days at a clinic for those battling cancer. She is a lover of animals. She is vegan. She drives her car with images of the Virgin Mary as well as a cartoony-looking Buddha. On this day though, her vehicle fails her. She is at the home of Grant and Cathy (David Warshofsky and Connie Britton) treating Cathy to a massage before their guests arrive for dinner. Upon leaving, Beatriz realizes that her car will not start and will have to wait for a friend to come fix it. Cathy not only invites Beatriz to stay for dinner as a guest but to spend the night as well, much to Grant’s chagrin. (The two obviously don’t have a happy marriage, but story doesn’t really get into why that is.) Of course, Beatriz wasn’t expecting this and unlike the glamorous guests, she sticks out like a sore thumb.
Some Christians will be uncomfortable with that fact that Beatriz doesn’t hone in any one religion. She considers herself to be a very spiritual woman and the film suggests that she has the ability to see things that others don’t, but it’s pretty subtle. However, for the purposes of this story, she is really representing the total opposite characteristics of fellow dinner guest, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) a self-satisfied billionaire real estate developer. He is everything that she’s not. He’s a condescending racist, wears fancy clothes, is rude and doesn’t allow anyone to stand in his way. The only thing that the two do have in common is that they like to drink. Something that the two do in excess which only loosens them up to say what it is that they really want to say to the other.
People who are only familiar with Lithgow with his work on Third Rock from the Sun or even his most recent sitcom, Trial and Error, might be surprised to learn that he is also a fine and serious actor. Hayek is a beautiful woman with a great sense of wit normally, manages to cower somewhat (at least in the beginning) knowing that she doesn’t fit in with this crowd. Normally, these kinds of interactions on the big screen would come across as over-the-top caricatures, but these two are pros.
Upon meeting her, Doug mistakes Beatriz as being part of the help (since she was “just hovering about”) and doesn’t realize that she, like him, is a guest. Doug is Grant’s boss so naturally Grant is uncomfortable with this interaction, but Cathy considers Beatriz as a friend. Their daughter struggled with cancer treatment and it was Beatriz’s work with cancer patients that they got to know her. Also at the dinner party is Doug’s wife, Jeanna (Amy Landecker) and another couple, Alex (Jay Duplass) looking for a promotion and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny). As Beatriz enjoys one glass of wine after another, she finds the strength to stand up to Doug’s bigoted ways and says things that many of us wish we could say. And then things just get more and more awkward.
Unfortunately, with all of this buildup, the story finally comes to a stopping point as if someone told the filmmakers that they were running out of film and would need to wrap things up quickly. It has a very unsatisfying ending. I’m not exactly sure how the story should have ended, but I still wanted more when the credits rolled up the screen.
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