This film is not what I expected, so perhaps that affected my initial opinions. But even after thinking about it for a while, I’m still not sure where I land on this one. It’s a tough film to talk about too much without giving spoilers, so I’ll tell you what I can without saying too much.
Beatriz At Dinner is definitely a film with something to say, and it will likely polarize audiences. So, people are likely going to like it or hate it depending on which side of it’s subject matter they stand on.
Beatriz, played beautifully by Salma Hayek, is a holistic medical practitioner, massage therapist, organic dietitian, etc., from South America. She is very sensitive to the world around her, vegan, believes in astrology- you know the type, right? One of her clients is a woman, Cathy, played by Connie Britton. Beatriz drives down to Cathy and her husband’s big mansion near the beach in So Cal. Beatriz and Cathy are friends because Beatriz helped when Cathy’s daughter was recovering from chemo. When Beatriz goes to leave after her massage appointment there, her car won’t start, and Cathy invites her to stay for dinner while she waits for a friend to come help.
Thus begins a clash of class and personalities, as one of the other guests is a Trump-like real estate billionaire named Doug Strutt, played by the awesome John Lithgow.
Now, my initial thoughts were that this film would all take place at the dinner table and would have sharp, witty dialogue that pertained to social current issues – something like a Woody Allen or David Mamet type film. It isn’t really that, though.
We have a group of white people – husbands and their wives – that are a part of a real estate company trying to make a deal with this Doug Strutt character. Of course there are millions of dollars to be made. And here is Beatriz, clearly somewhere on the other end of the spectrum financially and culturally. As she drinks a few glasses of wine, her tongue loosens and Beatriz can’t stay quiet and polite any longer. As Stutt proudly shows the group a photo of him on African safari with a dead rhino he killed, Beatriz snaps.
We do get some great, meaningful dialogue, but it never digs deeper than the pretty obvious arguments of either side of such discussions. Not that it’s such a bad thing – and the cast is all great here. But I can’t help but feel like we never really peel the onion of reasoning behind either side’s opinions. We only get the external layers.
But Beatriz At Dinner isn’t just about these issues. There is a personal narrative to follow regarding Beatriz’s character. She has had a terrible week, one thing after another, and we see things very much from her perspective, even though in general, both points of view of the issues are offered.
The film culminates in utter bleakness. The questions we are left with deal with whether fighting is worth it; are writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl) showing us how desperate things are and why we must try to find common ground, or is it all hope lost?
There are a few moments of humor here, but very few. Generally in regards to showing how absurd privileged white people’s lives are. At one point, the ladies at the party are outside passing around a phone with pictures of some celebrity pop-star who ended up of a TMZ-like show. They’re all quite interested in it except Beatriz, who is befuddled and a little grossed out by it all. Why would anyone waste time on such things? Why do people care? Aren’t there more important things in life?
That’s what the viewer has to figure out for themselves. And like I said, this film will polarize people for sure. Some will find it just a bunch of liberal, tree-hugging propaganda, some may just see the evils of corrupt money-hungry Republicans. Hopefully somewhere in there is a middle ground, and people can look at it more objectively and intelligently and start some constructive conversation.
But ultimately, as a film, Beatriz At Dinner falls somewhere a bit cloudier than that. As a narrative fiction it’s incredibly grim. But if the script had perhaps been given more intelligent humour, dark or otherwise, and dug a little deeper, we may have gotten a film that wouldn’t seem so heavy-handed, therefore making it harder to create a more constructive dialogue.
At the end of the day, though, Beatriz At Dinner is an interesting film that deserves a look. It doesn’t need a big screen treatment, though, as it’s really just a small group of people talking at a low-key dinner party. See it on a plane, or on streaming when it becomes available. I’ll give it three kittenhands, simply because it deals with interesting subject matter and the cast is great.
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, still just over the fence with this one.