Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Director Miguel Arteta hasn’t particularly impressed me with his previous films (Cedar Rapids, The Good Girl), and Beatriz at Dinner is getting only mixed reviews, but something told me this would be my kind of film. Those instincts are almost always correct and they were again this time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the abrupt and difficult (i.e. difficult to understand) ending, Beatriz at Dinner would be a sure thing for my 2017 top-ten list. 

Beatriz at Dinner has a fairly straightforward plot: Beatriz (played by Salma Hayek) is a Mexican immigrant living in southern California who works as a New Age healer and massage therapist. Beatriz is very empathetic and has strong feelings towards all life on the planet, so she is devastated when her neighbour kills her pet goat. She shares her dismay with one of her wealthy clients (Cathy, played by Connie Britton) just before her car breaks down. Cathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner while she waits for a friend to help her. Beatriz reluctantly accepts the invitation, though Cathy’s husband, Grant (David Warhofsky), is not happy about it, because the man responsible for his wealth, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), is coming to dinner. Strutt is a billionaire real estate mogul who doesn’t care much whom he steps on to make his millions. Also coming to dinner are Strutt’s third wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker), and a business associate, Alex (Jay Duplass), with his wife, Shannon (Chloë Sevigny). 

Even before dinner starts, sparks start flying between Beatriz and Strutt when Strutt assumes she is a servant and asks her for a refill of his drink. But the dinner itself will prove far more uncomfortable for all concerned as Beatriz condemns Strutt for his involvement in a variety of crimes against life on earth. 

Hayek and Lithgow are perfect as Beatriz and Strutt, providing carefully nuanced performances that prevent their characters from becoming stereotypes (in many reviews, Strutt is compared to Trump, but this comparison only works at a superficial level). Britton and Landecker provide top-notch support. The cinematography and score are very strong, and Mike White’s screenplay, which is very dialogue-heavy, is generally brilliant. Sometimes it is a little simplistic, and there’s that strange ambiguous ending, but I have to credit the screenplay, along with the performances, for the way Beatriz at Dinner kept me fully engaged from the first minute to the last, which, for me, is a key criterion for greatness. 

The fact that Beatriz at Dinner provides some spot-on social commentary throughout doesn’t hurt either. It’s only at the end of the film, when it seems to suggest that there is very little you can do in the face of men like Strutt (or Trump), unless you’re willing to turn to violence (though that option is not viewed favourably either), that I wish Beatriz at Dinner had been longer, asked deeper questions and explored more options. Nevertheless, It gets a solid ***+, verging on ****. My mug is up. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a very solid film - perfect for discussions and movie nights. I'm not sure that I find the ending difficult to understand, though I will certainly acknowledge that it is difficult. There is a battle in me about whether it felt right or not. I also agree that the connection with Trump is tenuous and opportunistic on the part of the film's distributors - but, of course, there are similarities. I really appreciated the exploration of the weariness of doing good when up against the casual and blandly egotistic evil (which the world around just accepts as "normal" or "just business") and the deep, spiritual temptations that result. There were a couple of moments of that brilliant dialogue you mention that are just golden. Two mugs raised high on this one ****