Hot Take: “Inspired by the Trump era” might have been a worthy tagline in the opening credits. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow deliver great performances in this art house summer think piece. Too bad it couldn’t stick the landing.
Usually, when someone says, “This hasn’t been a great year for movies,” it is hyperbole. 2017 has not been a great year for movies, though. At this point last year, we had already enjoyed Sing Street, Hell or High Water, Everybody Wants Some!! and The Witch. All 4 ended the year in my top 10. If, by the end of this year, my current #1 (Wonder Woman) is still in the top 10, I’ll be shocked. Beatriz at Dinner is indeed one of the better movies of this year and, if it weren’t for a rather ambiguous, disappointing ending, it may have challenged Wonder Woman for the top spot.
Beatriz at Dinner is obviously harvested from current events. Beatriz is a physical therapist (Salma Hayek). During the visit to a client’s house, her car breaks down. The client, Cathy (Connie Britton), invites Beatriz to stay for their dinner party despite her husband Grant’s (David Washofsky) concerns that it might not be a good idea. The guests at the dinner party include a lawyer (Jay Duplass) and his wife (Chloe Sevigny) and David Strutt (John Lithgow), a billionaire real estate mogul with a strong personality (sound familiar?) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker).
As Beatriz attempts to blend in, it’s obvious she’s a square peg and the dinner party is a round hole. Because of her relationship with Cathy — Beatriz cared for Cathy’s daughter who had Hodgkin’s Disease at the alternative cancer-treatment center she works at — she has a bond with the host but the gratitude Cathy has is mistaken for friendship. We’re quick to find out that Beatriz has nothing in common with their party guests and, in the case of Strutt, has diametrically opposed viewpoints.
Hayek as Beatriz turns in what might be the performance of the year so far. In a film that pits healers vs. destroyers, watching Beatriz have what appears to be a breakdown in front of our eyes, is something to watch. Hayek’s performance carries so much pain, anguish and frustration as she interacts with the power hungry guests and sees a different side of her gracious hostess. What’s interesting is how affected she appears to be by the discussions they have throughout the dinner party and how unaffected the other guests of the dinner party are. As Beatriz and Strutt go toe to toe philosophically, the guests are appalled by Beatriz’s behavior but fail to even give a thought to why she might be upset. However, they easily pivot back to their self-congratulatory conversations barely touched by previous discussions. Meanwhile, Beatriz is consumed with the meeting and deeply affected. It’s an interesting dichotomy that writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta explore and it is fueled by the performances of Hayek and Lithgow who is the quintessential villain. Lithgow might go down in cinematic history as one of the best choices to play a villain as Beatriz at Dinner continues his run which includes Blow Out, Raising Cain, Ricochet, Cliffhanger and the Showtime series Dexter.
The only hiccup is the ending. If you’re looking for a film to discuss afterward, Beatriz at Dinner is the perfect choice. It’s likely the ending will be divisive and leave some unsatisfied. Personally, it didn’t make a ton of sense and left me wondering what point the writer and director were trying to make. Feeling like Tom Hanks in Big at his first important work meeting repeating, “I don’t get it” in my mind left me wondering what kind of ending would have left me satisfied. Honestly, I don’t know. It just wasn’t this one.
That being said, Beatriz at Dinner was still a well done, wonderfully acted film with a timely theme and powerful characters. If anything, the film is definitely one of the more interesting films of 2017 although I can’t bring myself to say it was best thanks to an ending that left me wanting something different for our characters. Then again, maybe that’s more fitting of an ending considering our current climate.