MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ is a comfortably uncomfortable look inside new-age conservatism

While its gaze is smart and sharp, with a wondrous performance from Salma Hayek, this satirical comedy loses nearly all its steam in its ending

| June 25, 2017

Everything is political now. The way each of us eats, sleeps and breathes has become political in some way, shape or form. Whether you find this to be because of “political correctness” from the left or from the effect that a Trump presidency has brought on our society from the right, there’s no doubt that politics rules nearly every facet of our society. This can be a good thing, in small doses, as young people are more invested in politics than ever, with marches protesting political dissatisfaction or satisfaction ruling the state of American activism on both sides of the spectrum. Granted, the over-policing of the PC-police has become a bit over-exaggerated, with callout culture pervading much of a millennial’s social media feed today. It was only a matter of time that this strange time that we call 2017 would bring forth political cinema, and the first direct hit at the Trump society has come in the form of “Beatriz at Dinner.”

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a Mexican immigrant and practitioner of alternative medicine, self-described as a healer, using massage, sound therapy, reiki and other methods in healing her clients. When tending to a rich, but close client, Cathy (Connie Britton), Beatriz’s car breaks down at her house, stranding her until her friend can come pick her up in a few hours. Unsure of what to do, Cathy impulsively invited Beatriz to stay for the business dinner party she’s hosting for a celebration in her husband’s (David Warshofsky) work. While most of the guests (Jay Duplass, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker) are harmless, if blissfully privileged, Beatriz has a hard time stomaching the antics of boss Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), who presents himself as a cocky, conservative, intrusive and selfish man who stands for everything that Beatriz isn’t. While Beatriz initially tries to smile and participate in gratitude of Cathy’s kindness in inviting her, the dinner party soon takes another turn when Doug pushes Beatriz past her breaking point.

A Sundance hit, “Beatriz at Dinner” really interested me as it’s a rare opportunity to get to see Hayek in such an unglamorous role, especially in a film as minimalistic as “Beatriz at Dinner” is. This is an interesting film not only in its premise, but in its execution. During the first 45-60 minutes of this film, I was really feeling it as a good build-up to a scathing satire of new-age conservatism, to which it was doing really intelligently, detailing these party guests not as the masked KKK rednecks that much of the liberal media portrays conservatives to be, but that of suit-wearing, brandy-drinking, smooth-talking businessmen looking to preserve their way of life by any means necessary. The only issue with this is that “Beatriz at Dinner” doesn’t deliver the final uppercut in delivering this scathing satire, it simply seems to die upon any sort of conflict that it tries to present. That doesn’t make the good parts of “Beatriz at Dinner” any less good, it just really sours its finale, making re-watchability harder.

Still, if there’s one reason to see this film, it’s Hayek. Typically the beautiful model or the femme fatale, Hayek is dressed down quite a bit for “Beatriz at Dinner,” but even in homely gray pants, sneakers and TERF bangs, Hayek can’t be anything but stunning in the way she commands a scene. Many people love to simply give Hayek credit for being beautiful, but I’ve always found Hayek’s true beauty to lie in her inner power that she brings to each of her characters, and Beatriz just might be one of her most compelling to date. She’s sweet, but has a dark side about her, while also featuring a blissfully unaware sense of anti-social behavior that really makes the cringe-worthy scenes in this film sometimes unbearable to watch. Complementing her fabulously is the antithetic presence that comes in Lithgow’s performance. It would’ve been easy for Lithgow to go full Trump in this performance, as the (sometimes painfully unsubtle) script would leave you to believe, but Lithgow always has the sort of gentleman-like charm about him that makes him initially impossible to hate, which makes the evolution of this character quite refreshing.

Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by long time writing partner Mike White, “Beatriz at Dinner” doesn’t quite go for the jugular (except once) like you would expect it to, but the sort of satire found here is that of a more hidden, physical humor. While the caricatures that these characters embody can be quite unsubtle at times, especially with the more conservative characters, but it’s not so noticeable that it’s any less funny or true. The dialogue in this film is sharp and often times incredibly uncomfortable, which does create quite a tense viewing experience, especially when much of the shit hits the fan. This is quite impressive for such a low-key screenplay.

But here’s the thing that brings down “Beatriz at Dinner” a lot: its final act. While the film builds up to something explosive and cringe-inducing to the point of tears, the film then simply decides from there to simply keel over and die. The ending to this film is so unlike itself that I had a hard time really believing that this was the true ending to the original screenplay, and that something had to be there that I simply didn’t see. But this abrupt, nonsensical and even insulting wrap up to this story nearly ruined the entire film for me.

Nearly.

That being said, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t much to enjoy about “Beatriz at Dinner,” and the merits of its build-up still outweigh the complete bullshit of its ending. Hayek delivers one of her best performances in years in this film, to which I wouldn’t be surprised if she racked a Golden Globe nomination for, and Lithgow’s charismatic villain shines through too. While the film isn’t subtle in its message, it does provide with some good satire that really does hit home quite a bit with such an effective cast delivering it. Still, the final act of this film is a real bummer for anyone looking for something satisfying and conclusory. I can’t go so far to say that “Beatriz at Dinner” is worth spending money on, but if you’re ever on a plane and the in-flight entertainment has it available, there are much worse ways to spend 84 minutes.

3/5

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Chloë Sevigny, David Warshofsky.
Runtime: 83 minutes
Rating: R for language and a scene of violence.
Now playing exclusively at AMC Concord Mills & Carolina Pavilion, and Regal Park Terrace & Ballantyne Village.

Roadside Attractions and FilmNation Entertainment present, a Bron Studios and Killer Films production, in association with Creative Wealth Media Finance Corp., a Miguel Arteta film, “Beatriz at Dinner”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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