BEATRIZ AT DINNER
Written by Mike White
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, and Connie Britton
Mike White’s (“Enlightened”) eloquence and intelligence shines like a beacon in his newest film “Beatriz At Dinner” starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, and Connie Britton. It’s a complicated feature delving
into class distinction, “the 1%,” and the environment. Beatriz (Hayek) is a holistic massage therapist, helping cancer victims with alternative treatments. Her sense and intuition create powerful insight with everyone she meets. After her car breaks down, she is stranded at a wealthy client’s home and she is reluctantly invited to stay for a high-powered and intimate dinner party. The disparity between she and this group keeps you on edge as the evening devolves into a moralistic and ethical battleground.
Beatriz is more than compassionate and kind, she understands the very nature of the balance of our world. She is connected to the soul of the Earth, animals, and people, but when she encounters Doug Strutt (Lithgow), it takes everything in her to not speak her mind. A few glasses of wine, however, releases the edit mode button and she begins to cross the border of being a gracious guest and attempting to enlighten one of the most disgustingly self-centered, greedy, and judgmental corporate leaders.
The film creates such stress and tension as we watch the story unfold. Her relationship with Cathy (Connie Britton) is a delicate balancing act as there is a feeling of gratitude and indebtedness from Cathy. It boils down to employee, employer versus friendship—these are the lines that are balancing like spinning plates. With the unknown variables of people’s responses, especially after drinking, the plates inevitable tumble. The mess that is left is quite unexpected.
The characters in this film are wonderfully complex and layered. The emotional performances tease out the subtle as well as the blatant differences among the guests with absolute precision. Britton’s portrayal of Cathy as the conflicted yet gracious hostess who has a moral obligation to Beatriz, is exceptional. She is pulled in two different directions—she is the middle ground upon which the remaining characters find their sides. The gluttonous characterizations of those that have so much is beautifully and realistically rendered in “Beatriz At Dinner.” The marginalization of our world and the effects of mankind upon it from this group’s perspective is at once revolting and enlightening. But it is the complexity of the situation that drives this film forward. Beatriz isa guest in someone else’s home, but she cannot allow Strutt to get away with such narrow-mindedness and selfishness. It’s an intrinsically high-paced dinner with high stakes.
Lithgow has a performance to remember as Strutt. He is the epitome of an egomaniacal power-monger. He elicits a burning resentment and anger as he utters his self-aggrandizing viewpoints. While Lithgow could have easily taken this role to the extreme, it is his skillful performance that gives Strutt a realistic persona. We know this individual exists and his pride in killing big game is reminiscent of a dentist not too long ago. His condescension paired with the remaining guests feelings of entitlement and total disregard for humanity is deplorable…but real.
Interspersed within the dialogue that is succinct and revealing is Beatriz’ spiritual connection as we are privy to her mindful images. The symbolism portrayed is poetic as we see the world, her past, and her future through her eyes. Hayek’s performance is magnificent. Her gentle nature comes through to her character as she carries a very heavy burden. The weight of the world rests on her shoulders and we feel her struggle to forge ahead, making this world a better place.
“Beatriz At Dinner” is one of the most eloquent and articulate films depicting our social issues and the consequences of greed. The internal and external turmoil represented reflects our current political and environmental standing, poured out for all to see. We get a real glimpse into the mindset of power, money, and the delineation of class. It’s a tension-filled, gripping and magnificent story with exceptional performances that will impact you long after the credits roll. Watch this and your next holiday family dinner will seem like a piece of cake.