As I continue to write this movie blog and get deeper into the world of movies, I find myself wanting to push past the level of mainstream, big Hollywood releases and get into the lesser known, art house, independent, smaller films that are out there. Looking around at what was in theaters and what was getting good word of mouth, I settled on checking out Beatriz at Dinner, as it seemed like a very timely movie that presented a very topical conversation in a grounded and relatable way that, I hoped, would cut through all the posturing and elitism that drowns conversations about politics and socio-economic disparity today. What I got was a well made movie with some striking visuals that ultimately is a bit overwrought and falters a bit with its messaging.
Beatriz at Dinner is the story of what happens when Beatriz, a massage therapist and practitioner of alternative medicine, played by Salma Hayek, stays for dinner at her wealthy client’s house after her car won’t start. The dinner is in honor of her client’s husband, Grant, who owns and operates a large scale construction company and has secured a deal to start work on a new development to be run by Doug Strutt, a thinly veiled stand in for Donald Trump played by John Lithgow, and with the help of an up and coming lawyer, Alex, played by Jay Duplass.
Over the course of the dinner, through various conversations, it is revealed the Beatriz is an immigrant to the United States and the city from whence she came was the victim of a hotel developer who came in and built a new hotel promising jobs and tourism but only delivered pain and suffering in the name of profits to the people of the city. You can clearly see that this dinner will not turn out to be the happy fun times in 3 courses that Beatriz’s client Cathy (Connie Britton) dreamed it would be.
Now, how do I feel about Beatriz at Dinner? I really, really, wanted to like it but I just don’t think I do. There is a lot of good going on here but it never really gels into an over all enjoyable movie.
Let’s start off with things that I did like, most notably the director’s use of color and framing, the acting, and the gloriously awkward tension that permeates that film. The use of color in the costuming and set dressing in Beatriz at Dinner is rather striking and serves to inform the audience on certain characters and how they will be treated by other characters. For instance, the lawyer, Alex, and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) are wearing a beige blazer and a beige dress (respectively) and most of the walls in Grant and Kathy’s house are painted, you guessed it, beige. To me this signifies that these two characters are largely unimportant and just might as well be a part of the walls, and I believe that is echoed in their interactions with the other at the dinner party. Their costuming is also similar to that of the staff at the house as well. The waiter, maid, and cook are all wearing neutral beige tones as if to just blend into their surroundings.
To contrast this, other main characters are wearing either dark blues for the male characters and bright sundresses for the female characters aside from Beatriz who is wearing a pair of light gray pants and a blue/gray shirt. Not only does this set her apart from the other women but there is a rather striking scene where Beatriz walks into a living room, looks around for a minute and then continues on. In that room, all of the decorations, like a painting hanging up, the lamps, throw pillows, etc., all match the color scheme of what Beatriz is wearing. So, while a few characters are wearing colors that show that they are on the same level as the walls in a room, Beatriz’s clothes, to me, indicate that while she is important to her client, ultimately she is just decoration, a person to bring color into your life but not much more.
All the actors deliver very solid performances. Salma Hayek is great at delivering long speeches about her spirituality, connection with animals, and her own back story. She always imbues her lines with a genuine earnestness and you truly feel for her when you see her hurting. As for the rest of the cast, they do their part in being slightly taken aback by what Beatriz is saying as it is so far out of the norm for them that they usually, can’t come up with an appropriate response so they just redirect the conversation and, the few times that they do try to respond, they do so with dismissive humor showing just how little they care for this person that has intruded on their world. The cast is great at creating an incredibly awkward tension between themselves on par with what we see in Get Out.
Now on to the things that I didn’t like, namely this thread of symbolism and metaphor that run through the entire film and culminates in a rather extreme action by a main character at the end of the film. Throughout Beatriz at Dinner, Beatriz tells several stories involving animals, how they have impacted her life, and the connection she has with them. In stark contrast, Doug Strutt is a big game hunter who is proud of his kills while on safari in Africa. All this just further shows the ideological divide between Beatriz and the rest of the characters. Aside from illustrating that divide, I never felt like I fully understood what the point of all of Beatriz’s stories were or how they related to each other and to the plot. I really feel like there was something deeper at play in this movie that either went right over my head or was just executed poorly by the writer (Mike White) and/or director (Miguel Arteta).
As I said in my intro, I went into Beatriz at Dinner expecting a real, grounded, human conversation that would cover many of the socio-economic divides that affect our country today but present them free of the toxic rhetoric and tired talking points that we’ve all heard. Walking out of Beatriz at Dinner, I don’t feel I got that. While Beatriz felt like a real character, all of the other characters felt more like caricatures or slightly fleshed out stereotypes. I wanted Lithgow’s character to be more human, more relatable, and have more too him than he did. Now that might be me getting let down by my own ill-founded expectations but I felt it’s still worth noting.
All in all, I think Beatriz at Dinner is a decent movie but a movie whose reach exceeds it’s grasp. I mostly enjoyed my time watching this film but not nearly as much as I hoped I would but, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again.
What about you, have you seen Beatriz at Dinner? Do you want to? Sound off in the comments below!
Until next time, Thank You for reading and…
SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!!!