Film Review: Beatriz At Dinner is One of the Year’s Best (And Most Timely) Films

By: Stephen Hladik

Beatriz At Dinner is one of the best comedic and tragic movies of the year, depending on how you look at it. It is, of course, not the first movie to operate on both of these plains, but it is one of the few movies that overwhelmingly excels at the difficult act of balancing both it’s humorous aspects and heartbreaking ones. It’s comedy is razor sharp and keenly self-aware, and it’s tragedy, is well, pretty tragic. 

 photo via  Vanity Fair

photo via Vanity Fair

It's not a violent or overly emotional movie at first glance, it’s plot concerning Beatriz (Salma Hayek) a masseuse and spiritual healer who clashes with fellow guests at a dinner party hosted by one of her clients Kathy (Connie Britton). But, just because the film lacks the kind of gore or that we are so used to seeing at the movies doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t provide its own, nuanced version of it. Instead of guns and knives we get judgmental side eyes and condescending, ignorant remarks and instead of blood and guts we only get to see the damage done by how it plays out on Hayek’s horrified face. But what makes Beatriz at Dinner so unnerving is how just freakishly timely it is. The movie was written before the election of Donald Trump, but it feels like it could be a direct response to almost any given day thus far in this administration.

See, the character of Doug Strutt (played with aggravating smarm by John Lithgow) is basically a Trump-surrogate. He is a CEO who is currently planning to erect yet another slew of hotels, but carelessly chooses land that belongs to sacred Native Americans. He finds himself in the midst of many dark accusations and legal battles, and his treatment of people, mainly anyone who isn’t rich and white, is highly prejudice. (Sound familiar?)

When Beatriz meets him, she’s convinced she knows him, perhaps even from another life, and the two immediately begin clashing. Things particularly blow up when Doug brags about his upcoming hunting trip, which sends Beatriz into a drunken tailspin of repressed rage and vulnerability.

Mike White, who wrote the screenplay, has a history of crafting thoughtful and thought-provoking dramedies that speak to our current political and social climate. His 2011 television series Enlightened (one of the most spectacular and underrated shows pretty much ever created) starred Laura Dern as a woman who suffers a nervous breakdown and returns to her work and personal life with a new sense of passion and vigor, only to find herself in the position of whistleblower after she uncovers corruption at her workplace. The takedown of corporate greed and corruption is a central part of both Enlightened and Beatriz at Dinner, and both works have a determined, complicated heroine at the center of its narratives, who ultimately serve as a mouthpiece for what so much of the audience watching is feeling.

One of the great joys (and discomforts) of Beatriz is seeing so many of the microagressions and social dynamics that take place over the movie and recognizing them as moments that anyone has certainly witnessed or experienced in real life. All of the dinner guests treat Beatriz not with outright disdain or disapproval, but with coded glances, pauses, and comments that certainly reveal their true feelings about people who aren’t like them, who don’t fit in their affluent, white, almost certainly Republican bubble.

 Doug represents the Donald Trumps of the world, the ignorant, greedy, bone-headed men who sit behind desks and make decisions that offer no other purpose but to make themselves richer and more powerful. Even more fascinating is how the film portrays the women in these circles, the arm-candy wives who dress up and gossip and stand by as their husbands commit heinous acts.

There’s a great scene early in the movie as Beatriz is observing the women at the party (Doug’s wife Jeana, played by Amy Landecker, Shannon played by Chloe Sevigny, and Britton’s Kathy) as they discussed the recently leaked nude photos of a fictional pop-star named Zoey Mars. The women’s banter about the girl’s body, her decision to take these photos, and what will become of her career is so unbelievably casual and filled with total disregard to the girl’s emotional and personal well-being. They don’t show an ounce of pity or remorse for the girl, but instead, pass around the photos as they laugh and critique, totally oblivious to the impact that kind of dialogue can have.

 photo via  Brehem Center

photo via Brehem Center

In fact, arguably the second most interesting character in the movie besides Beatriz is Kathy, who struggles between trying to be a decent person and fitting in with the rest of her friends. Her relationship with Beatriz is equally both warm and cold. She treats her kindly but with an aloft, distant kind of manner. She has let Beatriz into her life, but only for the purpose she needs. She thinks that because she pays her well, smiles when she speaks, and asks general questions about her life, that she somehow knows this woman and is exempt from understanding the full breadth of her humanity and lifestyle

Later in the film, when Kathy says “I feel like I don't even know you” to which Beatriz sharply replies “you don’t know me” it comes across the screen as a major commentary on how for so many people, especially people of color, the people who are around you or are in your life don’t really know you, and even worse, don’t really try. If they don’t know you and the totality of your experiences, then they can’t be held accountable for their role in the forces that oppress you.

Beatriz At Dinner is the movie of the best movies of 2017, and one of the first great pieces of art to come out of the Trump era. It’s a movie about awkward dinner parties and the drawing of party lines, of coming face to face with those who are oppressed and those who are responsible for it. It’s ending is bleak and ambiguous, and I wish I could say that it has our willful heroine coming out on top, winning a victory for the little guys, the marginalized, the discounted, the unknown. Ultimately, depending on your spiritual beliefs, it really doesn’t. But oh, how glorious it is to watch Beatriz turn the tables on the Doug Strutt’s of the world. Even if the ending isn’t in our favor, the message and morals of the movie certainly is. 

Beatriz At Dinner is one of the best comedic and tragic movies of the year, depending on how you look at it. It is, of course, not the first movie to operate on both of these plains, but it is one of the few movies that overwhelmingly excels at the difficult act of balancing both it’s humorous aspects and heartbreaking ones. It’s comedy is razor sharp and keenly self-aware, and it’s tragedy, is well, pretty tragic. 

It’s not a violent or overly emotional movie at first glance, it’s plot concerning Beatriz (Salma Hayek) a masseuse and spiritual healer who clashes with fellow guests at a dinner party hosted by one of her clients Kathy (Connie Britton.) But, just because the film lacks the kind of gore or that we are so used to seeing at the movies doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t provide its own, nuanced version of it. Instead of guns and knives we get judgmental side eyes and condescending, ignorant remarks and instead of blood and guts we only get to see the damage done by how it plays out on Hayek’s horrified face. But what makes Beatriz at Dinner so unnerving is how just freakishly timely it is. The movie was written before the election of Donald Trump, but it feels like it could be a direct response to almost any given day thus far in this administration.

 See, the character of Doug Strutt (played with aggravating smarm by John Lithgow) is basically a Trump-surrogate. He is a CEO who is currently planning to erect yet another slew of hotels, but carelessly chooses land that belongs to sacred Native Americans. He finds himself in the midst of many dark accusations and legal battles, and his treatment of people, mainly anyone who isn’t rich and white, is highly prejudice. (Sound familiar?)

When Beatriz meets him, she’s convinced she knows him, perhaps even from another life, and the two immediately begin clashing. Things particularly blow up when Doug brags about his upcoming hunting trip, which sends Beatriz into a drunken tailspin of repressed rage and vulnerability.

Mike White, who wrote the screenplay, has a history of crafting thoughtful and thought-provoking dramedies that speak to our current political and social climate. His 2011 television series Enlightened (one of the most spectacular and underrated shows pretty much ever created) starred Laura Dern as a woman who suffers a nervous breakdown and returns to her work and personal life with a new sense of passion and vigor, only to find herself in the position of whistleblower after she uncovers corruption at her workplace. The takedown of corporate greed and corruption is a central part of both Enlightened and Beatriz at Dinner, and both works have a determined, complicated heroine at the center of its narratives, who ultimately serve as a mouthpiece for what so much of the audience watching is feeling.


 

 

 

Steve HladikComment