#REVIEW: “BEATRIZ AT DINNER”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
It is difficult to tell where social commentary ends and fiction begins in Director Miguel Arteta’s latest Film, Beatriz at Dinner. Health therapist Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is asked to join her client’s dinner party when her car breaks down at Cathy’s (Connie Britton) gated community home. First to arrive are the political social climbers (Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny) followed by the man of the hour, Doug Strutt and wife number three (John Lithgow and Amy Landecker). In the time it takes to drink pre-dinner cocktails and have the first course served, Strutt establishes himself as a narrowed minded bigot who finds Beatriz useful only as a punchline to be used at future dinner parties.
It is a testament to John Lithgow’s abilities that Strutt’s lapses of humanity make his character more than simply an easy target for audiences to dislike; he instead elevates the character beyond a lazy two-dimensional antagonist. Lithgow’s Strutt appears to be a metaphor for the current American president: a rich real estate mogul who cares nothing for the environment or anyone not as rich and white as he is. The thinly veiled caricature isn’t as jarring as it is disquieting. Strutt is normalized by everyone around him who act as if his actions and beliefs are both commonplace and too complex for anyone as banal as Beatriz to understand.
In contrast, Beatriz is seen as quirky and is only saved from being unacceptable and “weird” in the eyes of her tablemates by Cathy’s constant eulogizing of her skills and tragic past. Her leftwing love of animals and the earth is met with the condescending smiles and ill-concealed eye rolls usually reserved for precocious children. Arteta further separates Beatriz from her wealthy tablemates by attempting to make Salma Hayek look frumpy. Her lack of make-up and comfortable work clothes are sharply contrasted to their carefully made-up faces and designer outfits.
The ultra-wealthy guests beg for labels like 1% and “white people problems” with their multiple homes, house staff, and struggles of which tropical paradise to spend their summer vacations. Although Screenwriter Mike White (School of Rock) seems to condemn their behavior on the one hand, he also alludes to an ominous future where they will rise and Beatriz’s kind of liberalism will fall beneath their heel and disappear.
Arteta’s direction works best when the storytelling is straight forward and his actors are given space to flex their considerable acting chops. Dinner parties can either be intimate or claustrophobic and Arteta somehow manages to convey both feelings at different points in the evening. The Movie languishes when the story attempts to be told through the score rather than the story. Ominous overtones to the more questionable existential scenes serve only to mire down the movie’s brisk pace.
With an impressive ensemble cast led by John Lithgow and Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner is the awkward dinner party everyone fears they will host yet secretly hope they get to witness.
Elevation Pictures release Beatriz at Dinner on Friday, June 16, 2017.