‘Beatriz at Dinner’ is the perfect film during the Trump era. Director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) and screenwriter Mike White (Chuck & Buck) reteam for this dark comedy about class and privilege. The dinner party is fertile ground for hidden biases to simmer to the surface. It’s a faceoff between characters from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s a culture clash between healer and destroyer that makes for lively discussion at a café once you exit the movie theater. If you feel uncomfortable during the tense dinner scene then the filmmakers succeed in making you think about the struggle for humanity’s conscience. It is never intended to make you take sides but instead asks you to care about our beautiful, fragile world.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) works as a holistic health practitioner at a cancer center in Los Angeles. To make ends meet, she provides massages at her clients’ homes. She lives alone except for her pets which includes a goat that she keeps in the house. After work, she drives to a gated community in Newport Beach where her longtime client Cathy (Connie Britton) lives. When her Volkswagen clunker breaks down, Cathy invites Beatriz to join her and her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) to a dinner party they are hosting for business friends. This sets the stage for an evening that all parties involved will never forget. Hayek is quiet and polite in the lead role and wears no makeup. There is something angelic and pure about her when she enters a room.
As the servants prepare the meal, Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) are the first guests to arrive. They are social climbers impressed with the palatial mansion that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. She casually orders a drink with a “splash of cran.” When Beatriz enters the room, she gives them both a hug that makes them feel awkward. When Shannon finds out Beatriz is originally from Mexico, she blurts out “I love Cancun.” Soon after, the guest of honor shows up with his trophy wife. Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a notorious real estate mogul sips drinks with the men and talks shop while the women’s small talk deals with reality TV and plastic surgery. When Beatriz hovers in the background, Doug assumes she is the help and asks her to freshen up his cocktail. Let the fireworks begin!
Once the dinner conversation takes off, Beatriz and Doug’s philosophies on life clash. Doug talks about his real estate development projects with total disregard for the environment and natural habitat. Beatriz is one with nature and believes that it is everyone’s duty to help save our dying planet. When Doug boasts about Manifest Destiny and creating new jobs, she exclaims “Try healing something!” Cathy steps in and tells her guests how remarkable Beatriz was in her daughter’s recovery from chemotherapy treatment. When Doug brags about his big-game hunting on an African safari, Beatriz cries out, “Are you for real? This is disgusting.” Although Lithgow plays a callous businessman, he delivers a masterfully layered performance. There are moments where Beatriz momentarily connects with Doug.
Hayek is the real standout of the movie. Her performance is unexpectedly moving and is her best role since 2002’s ‘Frida.’ Her character resonates but is not without her flaws. She drinks too much wine and speaks her mind. It’s intriguing to watch how the evening unfolds. As fire lanterns are launched in the air, will one land and create a fire hazard? ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ is worth your attention and guaranteed to ignite lively discussion afterwards. It’s now playing at an arthouse theater near you.