BEATRIZ AT DINNER. Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, David Warshofsky, Jay Duplass, and Chloe Sevigny. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Rated M (Violence and coarse language). 82 min.
This American-Canadian drama, with satirical bite, tells the story of a Mexican immigrant, who works as an alternative health practitioner in the U.S, and who is invited to dinner at a rich person's mansion. Arguments are pursued over dinner that affect the lives of all those present.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a middle-aged divorcee, who works at a massage therapy centre for cancer patients in Los Angeles, and she sees other clients privately in their homes. In one of her private visits, she helps with stress being experienced by Kathy (Connie Britton), and her help is appreciated. When Beatriz’s car becomes stuck in Kathy’s drive-way, Kathy invites Beatriz to a dinner party that she and her husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), a wealthy business man, are holding that night in their affluent Newport Beach home.
A key person at the dinner is billionaire, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), who is Grant’s boss. Doug is consumed by his own importance, has made his money in real-estate, and is passionate about golf. The resemblances to Donald Trump are obvious. Beatriz gets into animated conversation with Doug, and remembers him from her past, when she was protesting unethical business interests. Not comfortable with the conversation she is hearing about privilege and big business in America, she is accused at the party of being an illegal immigrant, and of being a family maid.
When Doug hands around graphic pictures of dead animals before his impending game-hunting trip to Africa, Beatriz explodes. The party was to celebrate a highly successful deal to head the latest list of Doug’s corporate triumphs, and Grant is unhappy with Beatriz being there. When Beatriz drops her reserve, the evening heads for disaster, and she is asked to leave.
This is a film that provides discussion of a multitude of issues that are before the public gaze in the US today: illegal immigration, individual rights, profiteering in big business, class distinction, the welfare of needy citizens, and the protection of animals. The film has much to say about the erosion of humanity in the era of Donald Trump. It shows Beatriz crossing social-class boundaries to argue her case, and the film is filled with relevance to what is happening politically in America today. The film engages the viewer by focusing on verbal sparring between a working-class, female immigrant, and a wealthy, opinionated male tycoon, who skirts the law to increase profit. The result is a biting socio-political satire with modern-day relevance. Verbal put-downs and subtle camera-positioning constantly reinforce Beatriz’s social isolation.
The film ideologically stacks the deck on the issues it throws up for consideration, and uses comic repartee to lighten the tone. Salam Hayek is excellent as Beatriz, and John Lithgow gives an impressively spirited performance as Doug. The two of them are perfectly pitched in their opposing styles. Added reinforcement for Doug is given by a couple of other dinner guests (Chloe Sevigny, and Jay Duplass) who are striving to acquire wealth and power like Doug, but are not quite there yet, and all the time, Beatriz is kept in social isolation from everyone around her.
The film brilliantly analyses social conflict in privileged surrounds. The debate is multi-faceted, and the film is a collection of stimulating interactions and conversations about privilege and power, among those who have them, and between victim and perpetrator. Conversations consider humanity, but there is never too-comforting an endorsement of it.
This is a very well-directed film with dramatic clout, that is strongly relevant to political issues. Scripting is clever, insightful, sad, and funny, and Beatriz and Doug are worthy adversaries. A stunning and unexpected climax to the film provides a solution Beatriz chooses to solve her conflicts, but the viewer knows that those of Doug remain. This is a quality, thought-provoking movie that richly deserves to be seen.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released September 21, 2017