Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

  • Time: 87 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Miguel Arteta
  • Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Chloë Sevigny, Connie Britton


A holistic medicine practitioner attends a wealthy client’s dinner party after her car breaks down.


  • This film is far more complicated than a clash between a Donald Trump surrogate and a Green idealist. The moral spectrum here is far too nuanced to allow a single clear position. It’s a diagnosis without a prescription.
    For one thing, Doug Strutt is no Donald Trump, He’s far smarter, knowledgeable, more gracious, disciplined, self-aware, more honest — in fact, the character here who is the most at peace with himself. The three wives are uniformly hard, brittle, constantly on guard to sustain their marital and social status. Of the three wealthy couples only Doug is secure in himself and confident in his dealings with the others. The men live on his approval, so the wives must too.
    Indeed Strutt’s last words to Beatriz are a plausible strategy for dealing with our dying world: enjoy while we can. But enjoyment is not one of Beatriz’s options. As a healer she feels others’ pains too deeply, not just her patients’ but the animals’, the planet’s, the disintegrating universe.
    The film does not let us comfortably side with Beatriz. How seriously do we take her goats? Her range of putative sciences feels too close to satire. Her “moral stand” at the dinner rings as futile as the developers’ self-justifications, especially seeing as it’s fuelled by an unaccustomed intake of wine and a joint. Her idealism is as intrusive and self-displaying as the other class’s vulgarity. Oddly, too, Beatriz is played without Salma Hayek’s usual beauty. The shots that emphasize her large rear end bring her down to the wives’ sad, flawed mortality.
    She does make one strong point. Fixing is harder than breaking. The strutting Strutts are wreaking great damage upon the planet, whether the single killed rhino or the multitude of destroyed birds — and the human lives the bulldozing developers envelop and ruin. The latter includes the “partners” here so generously rewarded for their submission and fear. Nature if not the abused underclass will take its revenge.
    But does Beatriz? The film provides two conclusions to this dinner party. The first confirms Beatriz’s fantasy of revenge. She fatally stabs Strutt, in her dramatic but inconsequential sacrifice to reduce what she sees as the rampant evil in the world. She blames Strutt for her goat’s death. Of course one villain less won’t matter. She will suffer the serious consequence.
    In the second version she drops the letter opener, lets Strutt live and — broken by her failed resolve — walks out to her ocean death. The last image recalls her memory of paddling over the waters, here towards a new dawn. She earlier expressed her belief we have multiple lives, in which we can confront again the people with whom we have unresolved differences. So her belief makes even her suicide happier than her ridding the world of Strutt.
    The alternative ending requires us to choose which we prefer. Do we opt for the murderous revolution? Or the destructive futility of the idealist? Either position seems emblematized by the flaming lanterns floating up into the night, a beautiful but empty and ineffectual stab at the immutable darkness. Of course, the lanterns are extremely dangerous, indeed illegal, but the lawyer promises to save the host and the boss from any criminal charges. As usual.
    Some bit players reflect on the main ones. The photo of the host’s daughter Tara reveals a fragile, troubled, boyish girl, who finds a connection in Beatriz she can’t make with her parents. She overcame her cancer. Cancer is what Beatriz charges Strutt and bis cronies with being to the world. Struggling to find something positive about the maverick Tara, one woman compliments her eyes. The daughter sees more than the family and their friends realize.
    Then there are the three servants. The young man presiding over the event falls short on the grace, good looks and suave he’s hired to display. He’s not supposed to interrupt a guest to announce dinner. He embodies the hosts’ pretence and strain. The cook is a matronly white woman, controlling her realm. The hosts’ Mexican servant quietly suffers her work but shows an instinctive sympathy for Beatriz. “So how did it go, the dinner?” she asks. She represents the seething underclass Beatriz predicts won’t stay submissive. Even if she does — or doesn’t.

  • There’s a sadness that reverberates through screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta’s latest collaboration, Beatriz at Dinner. It’s a deep depth of emotion that’s predominantly provided by Salma Hayek, who delivers a majestic performance of stillness, radiance and melancholy as the title character.

    First introduced tending to her menagerie of pets before heading off to work at the Arendale Cancer Center, an alternative-medicine facility where her empathetic and nurturing nature is further highlighted. Her day nearly done, she gets into her old Volkswagen and drives up to the Newport Beach mansion of one of her clients, Cathy (Connie Britton), who considers Beatriz a friend of the family since Beatriz cared for her cancer-stricken daughter years earlier. As Beatriz massages Cathy, the two women catch up – Cathy’s daughter is now in university, Beatriz relays how her neighbour killed one of her goats.

    When Beatriz’s car breaks down and she has to wait for a friend to pick her up, Cathy invites her to stay for the dinner despite the objections of her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), who reminds his wife that this is an important business dinner. It’s immediately clear that Beatriz is a fish out of water and not just because she’s plainly dressed and greets each guest with a hug. She’s an outsider, mistaken for the housemaid by Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), the real-estate baron with the much-younger wife (Amy Landecker), penchant for big-game hunting, an almost prideful disregard for those affected by his voracious land grabs, and a not-so-incidental resemblance to a certain businessman-turned-reality-star-turned-president.

    As White’s script is not exactly awash in subtlety, it’s evident that the markedly different ideologies and personal natures of Beatriz and Doug are about to collide. Her increasingly wine-fueled disgust over his boorishness and capitalism smacks against the blithe nonchalance he derives from being a privileged white man. As smart and understandable as White’s claustrophobic set-up is, Beatriz at Dinner could have easily jettisoned its other characters and focused solely on Beatriz and Doug since Hayek and Lithgow are nothing less than electric, their richly textured performances tempering the heavy-handedness of White and Arteta’s admittedly well-intentioned indignation.

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