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‘Beatriz at Dinner’ (review)

Produced by Aaron L. Gilbert, David Hinojosa,
Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler
Written by Mike White
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow,
Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker,
Chloë Sevigny, David Warshofsky

 

When masseuse Beatriz (Salma Hayek) ends up attending the posh dinner party of her wealthy client Cathy (Connie Britton), an unlikely class showdown occurs, although the fireworks are perhaps not as intense as you might hope.

Beatriz is more than just a masseuse, she’s a holistic healer whom Cathy adores because of how she took care of their teenage daughter (now off at college) when she had Hodgkin’s Disease.

So Cathy barely hesitates to urge the casually dressed Beatriz to stay on to an important dinner after her car breaks down.

Beatriz overhears Cathy talking her reluctant husband into agreeing — he wants Beatriz to have her dinner in the kitchen — but things are about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable.

First there’s the awkward chitchat with Cathy’s well-heeled (literally!) friends, who quickly turn Beatriz’s talk about healing and old souls to the latest celebrity scandal.

Over cocktails, one of the guests mistakes Beatriz for “the help,” since she’s Latina, casually dressed and was “hovering.” He not only fails to apologize for the gaffe, but when she says she thinks she knows him, he quips, “Did you ever dance at Vegas?”

Over dinner, Beatriz slowly realizes that the man they’re toasting that evening, the same one who thought she was a maid, is Todd Strutt (John Lithgow) a Trumpian real estate mogul who thinks nothing of clearing out an endangered species for his new project.

We learn that Beatriz has suffered more than her share of loss in her life, from the devastation of her Mexican coastal village home town by a similarly greedy land baron, to the husband who left her. And her latest loss is a cruel one: Her neighbor strangled her pet goat to death because he hated the noise it made.

So it’s no wonder that Beatriz, who’s had more wine than usual, reacts when Strutt starts talking about the thrill of killing a magnificent beast while on safari.

It’s an interesting conundrum: Would you sit there and smile politely like the other guests? After all, the host is not only a client, but a friend. Or do you seize the opportunity to call out someone like that to their face?

As we realize the film is going to be about Beatriz the healer versus this icon of capitalism and greed, we root for her to get some kind of revenge, to strike some kind of blow.

He represents nearly everyone who’s ever done her wrong and we wonder if she’s going to throw aside her urge to heal and instead do some harm. There’s some interesting possibilities that run through your mind as you watch, up to and including her killing him.

As a dialectic on class warfare and the haves versus the have-nots, the film ends up being a fairly straightforward affair. It never veers into satire or absurdity, although maybe it would have benefited from a more surreal, Buñuel-esque take. Perhaps it, like Beatriz herself, is a little too earnest to take that leap.

Hayek is very good here and the scenes between her and Lithgow could very well end up being actor’s auditions scenes. But you just wish the film had gone a little farther and skewered its target a little more boldly.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

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