The past couple of weeks I’ve been catching up on films I had a tough time getting to earlier this year. I started with “Girls Trip” then “Sleight” last week and finally I got to this film, one I really wanted to see in the theater but never came my way, “Beatriz at Dinner”. Tagged as a comedy-drama film, this movie is much more drama than comedy and at a scant 83-minutes serves as a nice, concise, and powerfully well done look at the racial, religious, cultural, and economical divide that, whether you want to admit it or not, is a true part of American society today. Blunt without being over the top, “Beatriz at Dinner” may not be a film everyone can appreciate, but it’s one we all should be able to learn from.
“Beatriz at Dinner” has a very simple premise. It premiered at Sundance in January and sees Selma Hayek as Buddhist massage therapist Beatriz who finds herself stranded when her car breaks down at a rich clients home after giving her a message prior to a very important business dinner where the client’s husband is hosing a partner. Beatriz’s client, played by Connie Britton, invites her to stay for dinner, despite her husband’s objection, while Beatriz awaits a tow for her car. Once the remainder of the guests arrive, including a pair of new investor played by Chloe Sevigny and Jay Duplass and the main guest who is an architecture investor played by John Lithgow, Beatriz tries to fit in among the more high class dinner guests only to find herself an awkward outcast. As the night goes on Beatriz comes face to face with the bias and selfishness of her fellow guests while also suffering from the sadness of her own loss explained at the beginning of the film.
You should be warned that this film is not for those looking for nonstop action or a quick paced film. This film is meant to provoke thought and discussion and, given the proper consideration, it should do just that. It’s one with something to say and takes its time establishing the situation and presenting the conflict for viewers to understand, embrace, and appreciate and it does this to great effect. “Beatriz at Dinner” is a fantastically well done film that is focused, well written and scripted, and, despite its short run time, takes full advantage of every second of screen time to get its point across. It’s rare that a film ever plays out the way this one does. The characters are well acted and well developed and while we may not have long to embrace these people and who they are, there’s something very human and relatable about even the most despicable of the bunch. These characters do not demonize, glorify, or crucify the stereotypes they represent but rather humanize them. There’s something redeemable about all of them, even if you might not want to admit it.
Selma Hayek presents a pitch perfect character as Beatriz, a fish-out-of-water who serves as a representation of the poor, misunderstood, and potentially forgotten and downtrodden person in all of us. Hayek’s Beatriz is a layered character, one who is friendly, understanding, social, and kind, but also set in her ways, emotionally delicate, and maybe even a little disturbed and depressed. There’s so much going on with this character alone that Hayek’s performance itself makes this an intriguing film to watch. However she’s not alone. She is complimented by a great supporting cast that each fit a stereotype, but also prove to be layered and complex individuals in their own right.
Among the most notable performances is John Lithgow as Doug Strutt, a rich mogul who makes racially charged comments, enjoys trophy hunting, and has no problem relocating people or animals to build a money making machine. He is essentially the exact opposite of Beatriz, and yet he’s not completely hateable. Lithgow, a gem of stage and screen, creates a man with swagger and attitude who, despite his clear distain for certain aspects of Beatriz, also makes an attempt at understanding. He outright asks Beatriz if she is legally in America and working and admits that a picture of one of his trophy kills would be hard for some people to handle. Near the end of the film he even has a short heart to heart with Beatriz, almost as if he is trying to understand her but is too ignorant or set in his ways to fully embrace what he doesn’t want to understand. For all intents and purposes he’s the villain in this picture, but he’s not really evil. He simply comes from a different world, one that contrasts with Beatriz’s more passive and compassionate outlook on the world. While he may be blunt and arrogant, and even ignorant, he too feels targeted and under appreciated by the way he is seen from a woman who is essentially below her in his mind.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is also very well presented and while the storyline is straight forward and well paced, we get glimpses of what is going on inside Beatriz’s head. There’s grief and struggle, possibly from the loss she has suffered or maybe from her frustration that those she spends the evening with have chosen to choose luxury over a respect for life. There are subtle visual elements that director Miguel Arteta injected into this project that give it much deeper meaning and heart beyond the more socially relevant issues tackled on the surface. You feel like these are people and we are getting a true glimpse inside a world we’re not privy too. Like a fly on the wall. For a short movie, this is a project that hits all the right notes and may sacrifice entertainment value to make a point and embrace a certain style, but its point well made and very relevant to today’s society.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is a fantastic drama that tackles a wide array of social issues with great writing, surprisingly deep character development, and a tasteful approach few films manage to pull off. Short, sweet, and to the point, this film cuts out the riff raff and reminds us that movies can, and in many ways should be a way to present cultural and societal issues in a manner people can understand and relate to. There are no real “bad guys” or “good guys” in this film, only people, people with different perspectives that don’t mesh and, frankly, open up doors for judgement versus understanding where a more compassionate, level headed approach is probably more appropriate. If there’s one film America as a whole should see this year it’s this one. It’s only too bad that some people may be too ignorant or uninterested themselves in understanding or embracing what this film truly has to say and may fail to realize that the story doesn’t demonize, it simply opens your mind to just how different-but-the-same we all really are.