Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Mike White (“School of Rock”)
Personalities and political opinions clash in superb fashion in director Miguel Arteta’s satirical, dark dramedy “Beatriz at Dinner,” a film that is thematically timely in the volatile partisan climate the country finds itself in today, but doesn’t overstate its message one way or another. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White (“School of Rock”), by staying vague about their personal political views, keep the narrative ambiguous and provocative, which fares well for its polar-opposite main characters.
In “Beatriz at Dinner,” Salma Hayek, giving her best performance since her Oscar-nominated title role in the 2003 biopic “Frida,” stars as Beatriz, an Los Angeles masseuse a holistic healer who has recently felt more alienated as a Mexican immigrant after one of her neighbors purposefully kills her pet goat. Emotionally drained, Beatriz finds herself at a client’s home in an upscale L.A. neighborhood for a massage appointment. Beatriz has known her client, Cathy (Connie Britton), for a while now. She used to give therapy to Cathy’s cancer-stricken daughter. There is an obvious history and a quasi-friendship present—at least a superficial type, since Beatriz is there providing a service.
The dynamic of their relationship is altered, however, when Cathy invites Beatriz to stay for a dinner party after Beatriz’s car won’t start and she has to wait for a friend to pick her up. Cathy’s husband Grant (David Warshofsky) really doesn’t think it’s a great idea that she stays, since they are hosting a couple of his business partners, including billionaire real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), so they can talk about the new shopping mall they’re going to build.
Ideologies come to a head when Doug, a Donald Trump-esque character (although “Beatriz at Dinner” was written before Trump ran for President), and Beatriz find themselves sitting across from each other at the dinner table and later in another part of the mansion for dessert and drinks. Beatriz is dismayed when she realizes that Doug might be the real estate tycoon who ruined her home town in Mexico with his invasive construction projects. Their conversation comes to a boil when Doug shares pictures with the group of his recent safari expedition where he killed a rhino.
Hayek and Lithgow are perfectly cast in their roles. The moments they share of brazen offensiveness and sheer discomfort might leave audiences squirming in their seats as they witness two strong characters who refuse to back down from confrontation. The film is reminiscent of two other character-driven movies released 20 years apart, the 1995 dark comedy “The Last Supper,” and the 2015 Brazilian film “The Second Mother.” The first pits a group of left-wing young adults who host dinner parties for conservative guests and end up poisoning them if their politics are too offensive to their liberal sensibilities. The other, focuses on the way a well-to-do family’s dynamic shifts when they invite their housekeeper’s daughter to live with them before she gets ready to go to college.
In “Beatriz at Dinner,” Arteta and White keep the dialogue biting without allowing either Doug or Beatriz to maul each other with their incompatible beliefs. The open-ended final minutes of the film might turn some viewers off, who were hoping for some kind of final showdown, but like life, there are usually no winners when it comes to politically-charged discourse and discord.