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Beatriz at Dinner

On Father’s Day, as the wife and I headed over to the Angelika Film Center, she mentioned something as we pulled into the parking lot.

“I’m guessing you might be the only father in here watching this today.”

Surprisingly, it was a big crowd with lots of men. One father was explaining a scene to his three daughters in the lobby afterwards. I would’ve loved to have stuck around to hear how he explains the weak ending. That 3rd act is a bit much, but leading up to it was very interesting.

The screenplay was written by Mike White, who took a comedic actor I think is hysterical — Jack Black — and made him unfunny in two different movies (Nacho Libre and School of Rock).

Director Miguel Arteta did two movies I hated — Youth in Revolt (Michael Cera) and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (even the title is annoying). But Arteta also did the underrated comedy Cedar Rapids (Ed Helms, John C. Reilly). So the odds were really against this being a very good film. It was a surprisingly entertaining hour and 20 minutes…the shortest length you’ll get for a film these days.

Beatriz is played by Salma Hayek, who has some ugly bangs and no makeup. She’s also wearing an unflattering outfit, playing a massage therapist, holistic healer, animal lover, and big time Earth mother.

Beatriz arrives at the home of a rich client (Connie Britton, who was so great in the criminally underseen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). As she’s massaging her, she talks about the tough day she’s had. Not just the insane L.A. traffic, but a neighbor killing her pet goat. As she’s leaving the house, her car doesn’t start. She’s told she can stay for dinner (against the initial objections of the husband, played by David Warshofsky of Wilson). That might seem odd if she was just hired to give a rich woman a massage, but they have some history. Beatriz helped their daughter during chemo and the two became close.

This dinner is to celebrate a land development deal between a lot of rich folks, and that’s where it becomes a clash of classes. The working class woman who is Latina, and the rich, white guys that sometimes curse, and talk about other folks they’ve screwed over. And when you watch all the discussions taking place, it reminds you of your friend that loved Bernie Sanders. You look at their Facebook page and the comments section is filled with fights with the right. As you read each comment and they get nastier and nastier, you cringe a bit. Yet you can’t stop reading and being entertained.

What’s refreshing about how this script was done is that this group isn’t really rude to her. Sure, there’s that one moment (that’s a bit cliche), where John Lithgow, the big cheese at the dinner, mistakes her for the hired help and asks for another drink. Generally, they include her in the conversations. Even if they’re conversations she’d rather not be privy to (one of those include the wives sharing photos of a starlet that just had photos of her vagina released to the public, and she’s got herpes).

Obviously, lots of people will compare this movie to the current situation with President Trump and how heated things are between the right and the left. The only time I ever thought of Trump was when Jay Duplass’ character, upon finding out Beatriz is from Mexico, says, “I love Mexico. Cancun is awesome.”  [it felt like when Trump posted a picture of tacos on Cinco de Mayo with the words “I love Hispanics”]

Beatriz and Doug Strutt (Lithgow) soon butt heads. And it was all so subtly done (at first). You can see Beatriz stewing at the things she’s hearing, whether that’s a rhino he hunted in Africa, or a big hotel he put up with little regard to rare birds nesting in the area. It’s also smart that Strutt doesn’t just strut around the party spouting off like a big mouth. He’ll listen to Beatriz when she confronts him, and he has a certain degree of charm. For my money, the performances by Lithgow and Hayek could be among their top 3 performances of all time. Two examples from Lithgow would be when he’s grilling Beatriz on her legal status, and as he’s needling her, takes a sip of his Scotch, waves his hand at her and makes a comment about her contributing to society. Another time is when he’s just slightly drunk, and a bit ruder than before, but not over-the-top with it.

Hayek never goes over the top with her anger, until she finally reaches her breaking point. At that point, she’s asked to leave. And it all feels exactly like how a dinner party like this would go down. In other films, you sit there wondering why somebody doesn’t ask a rude person to leave, or at the very least, tell them to simmer down. In this movie, people do just that.

I might have prefered if the filmmakers didn’t just want us to root for Beatriz from the start. Maybe one of their arguments could have had Strutt winning. When she talks about a big hotel and golf course that ruined her hometown in Mexico, the scene might have been written to instead show that the hotel brought jobs to the city and really improved the living situation for many there. Let the audience think a little about complex issues, instead of having us all sit there thinking what a d-bag Strutt is.

It’s a shame some of the other talented cast members (including Amy Landecker and Chloe Sevigny, who was in another dinner movie recently — The Dinner) weren’t given a bit more to do.

There’s a lot of nuance to this story that was greatly appreciated.

Another interesting movie score provided by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.

This gets 3 stars out of 5.

— Josh Board