Beatriz At Dinner Only Rhymes With Winner
Review by Aaron Haughton
Beatriz At Dinner is the latest comedy/drama/social commentary film from writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow, who each light up the screen and deliver the best performances of their respective careers. The film made a big splash at the Sundance film festival for its political allegory and is even touted as “The first great film of the Trump era.”
The story follows Beatriz (Hayek), a legal immigrant from Mexico living in Los Angeles, who works as a holistic healer at a cancer treatment facility and massage therapist on the side. When we meet her, she’s having the worst week of her life — her pet goat was recently slain by her drunken neighbor, and she has several patients who seem unaffected by her efforts to treat them. As Beatriz goes about her day, she eventually ends up at the seaside mansion of her “friend” and client Cathy (played by Connie Britton), for a last minute massage, who is gearing up to entertain her husband’s business associates for an intimate dinner party. There is some history between the two women — Cathy’s daughter sought treatment from Beatriz’s facility when she was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in her recovery and a spiritual connection between Beatriz and the daughter — although the class divide still presents a clear barrier between them. However, when Beatriz’s shitty jalopy won’t start, Cathy extends a friendly invitation to stay for dinner. Having no other option, Beatriz reluctantly accepts and soon finds herself face to face with Doug Strut (Lithgow), a cutthroat, unethical, amoral, self-satisfied billionaire, whose lifestyle greatly differs from that of her own. The two opposites then collide over the course of the evening in a clash of culture, class, and ideology.
My biggest problem with the film was the third act losing momentum and giving way to overly vague, barely motivated, lousy poetics as a finisher, which will likely confound and annoy many viewers and can’t be overlooked. After all, Arteta shows keen awareness early in the film, knowing exactly when to let the poetry shine and when to let the performances dominate, which is the true centerpiece of the film, so it's very aggravating when it fizzles out instead of climaxing. The last 10-15 minutes (of it’s 88 minute runtime) veers into places you hope it won’t, which will cause eyes to roll, and by the time the film reaches its conclusion, I’m guessing most people will mutter, “okay…” to themselves before exiting the theater — that’s what I did, anyways. It’s a pretty significant gut-punch cop out because the first two acts are so strong and neatly constructed.
The first act effectively sets up Beatriz’s character and shows us the type of person she is: someone who’s overly compassionate and kind-natured, caring for many animals and the terminally ill, a believer in goodness and the triumphant healing power of love. Her life isn’t an easy one, which makes her very relatable, and we see her house is neglected by her compassion for others — the dogs and goat that inhabit her domicile; the house is unkempt and her car will barely turn over. At her job, she’s faced with odds that are stacked against her, but she still does her best to persevere. Hayek truly delivers a spellbinding performance and breathes so much life into Beatriz's character that you can hardly take your eyes off her, except to glance at Lithgow or laugh at one of the vapid, vacuous side characters.
In the second act, the pressure is turned up when Beatriz encounters Strut, who comes across as a more articulate, more coherent Donald Trump, but no less an asshole. He’s a real estate mogul with loose, questionable ethics, no regard for the environment, and is even on his third wife to boot. Lithgow portrays Strut with pompous, biting force and is a worthy nemesis to our heroine. Over the course of the evening, the two engage in conversation, which usually ends with someone interrupting or cutting Beatriz off to change the subject to something more hollow, which is often times hilarious, but doesn't build to the tense pressure-cooker head you want it to.
The dialogue is crisp, comedic and sharp, and the characters are believable, yet slightly one-note chords, with the exception of Hayek and Lithgow, who are the true champions and the only reason you should really see this film. It's filled with so many funny moments, but reaches a point where it’s no longer engaging or entertaining. It's a story where ultimately no one changes; a film about a spiritual force meeting an unmovable object. That's all.
In the end, the film doesn’t seem to have anything to say and its conclusion is too defeatist and pessimistic to really be savored. I will agree though that it is a perfect embodiment of the Trump era in a nutshell, but definitely not the first great Trump era piece to land this year — that would be Get Out, which is a more focused, enjoyable, and poignant film overall. For that reason, I’d suggest you wait until this one is available for rent or streaming.
Rating: 3 dead white goats out of 5.
What did you think? Did you enjoy the film? Did the ending work for you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!