Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Rated: R

STARS: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky
DIRECTOR: Miguel Arteta
GENRE: Dark Comedy/Drama

We live in a politically polarized nation (I'm talking about America--if you are outside the U.S., I don't know at this point whether to congratulate you or send my condolences). So it was inevitable that a film such as Beatriz At Dinner would come along--prompting us to titter at ourselves in grin-and-bear-it fashion, while simultaneously providing plenty of food for thought.

Salma Hayek is riveting as Mexican immigrant Beatriz--a massage therapist/ holistic healer with a deep empathy and love for all critters great and small. Her car breaks down during a professional visit to her client/friend Cathy (Connie Britton), and she becomes an unscheduled guest at the dinner party being thrown that evening for an ensemble of perfectly shallow upscale southern Californians--headed by Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a sociopathic land developer and big game hunter.

Things start out with polite interaction between Beatriz and the other guests, though they reveal their vacuity with comments like "I love Cancun" while Beatriz is relating a story about her early life in Mexico.

The fireworks begin when Strutt passes around a digital image of himself posing beside a dead rhino that he has gunned down somewhere in Africa. Beatriz sees red and fires off a verbal barrage--throwing his phone at his head to emphasize her point. Her righteous indignation seemed to win over the audience in the theater. But then director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White felt the need to portray her as someone becoming rapidly unhinged from that point forward (out of character from everything she stands for), as if to say we don't want to take sides between the Trump and the Bernie factions, so let's give each something to roll their eyes about.

And while Lithgow's villainous Doug Strutt grabs center stage the way he grabs up land for shady development deals, it is Connie Britton as Cathy who gives the most layered performance as the "friend" who has nothing but praise and admiration for Beatriz in the beginning, then shifts ever so subtly as things go along to reveal herself, in the end, as being just as shallow and ruthless as the people she hangs out with.

As we approach the Fourth Of July, I recommend you see Beatriz At Dinner. The incendiary battle of ideologies embodied by Hayek and Lithgow's characters is worth the price of admission--though the ending will leave you up in the air (a pun) as to what really happened and what it means, as well as a feeling of being somewhat underfed by the mere 77 minutes of running time.

Grade :  B


Beatriz At Dinner is not a film for the faint-hearted. It will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth no matter which side of the political seesaw you are teetering on. Salma Hayak's performance is as authentic as they get. But to sound like the superficial ladies at that dinner party, I might also point out that Salma's 'put on a few' since her Oscar-nominated performance in Frida. ("That Mexican food will do it to you every time," those ladies might whisper, cattily.) 

What I thought was very well scripted was how blissfully unaware the guests were of their own prejudices and bigotry. It reminded me of my dad when I chose to marry a Jew. His classic response? "Why, some of my best friends are Jewish!" When I tried to point out that his statement was making "them" different than "us," he replied: "But they are different! They give more money to public institutions, they respect education more!" I shrugged my shoulders and prayed that he wouldn't greet his new son-in-law with that some-of-my-best-friends line. (Which he did within five minutes.) I felt that this movie depicted that kind of insular ignorance extremely well. 

Acting kudos go out to John Lithgow. Big time. Having recently seem him portray Winston Churchill in the Netflix series "The Crown," I found it remarkable how such a tall actor could play such a short, squat man in his final years as England's prime minister. And do it so convincingly.

But the film took a turn for the worse towards the end. And what really pissed me off was the happily-ever-after images at the end. I haven't given anything away here but if you see Beatriz At Dinner, you will know immediately what I'm referring to. You don't do sad and then tack on happy. Life just doesn't work that way.

Grade: C +

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