I can wholly appreciate what screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta are attempting to convey with their mildly incendiary satire “Beatriz at Dinner,” but it’s just too bad that neither could figure out a rewarding ending for this political drama. The story of a Mexican immigrant (Salma Hayek) who finds herself uncomfortably thrust into position as a guest at a 1%-ers dinner party is not exactly enjoyable, but it sure is unforgettable.
Hayek is Beatriz, a kind and hardworking immigrant from a very poor town in Mexico. She has a spiritual sensibility and promotes natural healing and massage to aid cancer patients in Los Angeles. After making a massage house call to the mother (Connie Britton) of one of her former patients, her car breaks down and she is invited to stay the night — and join the group for their business dinner party. The evening’s guests include a cutthroat, endangered species slaughtering billionaire (John Lithgow) and a young couple celebrating their newfound wealth (Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny), environment be damned. These are pretty damn unlikable white people and as the lone truly kindhearted person, never mind her plain clothes and instantly being mistaken for “the help,” Beatriz is already the odd man out.
This is a very interesting idea for a film, and it’s as timely as it is disarming. Add this to another in the long list of fantastic performances from Hayak, an actress who is coming into her own lately. Here she has an alarmingly intense yet soft delivery that gives a great sense of what it feels like to be a true outsider among the elite. It’s a fish out of water tale that, while it’s undeniably a liberal fantasy story, is sure to spark many heated discussions.
Think of it as being a little preachy but with a whisper of subversiveness. This isn’t an action-packed film where much really happens on the surface, but its clear condemnation of the detrimental aspects of capitalism and the loss of basic human decency in the ‘Age of Trump’ are themes that I wish weren’t as relevant as they are. That being said, the movie could’ve done so much more to bring the point home.
The film’s breezy 83 minute run time means nothing ever feels slow, and watching as the interactions between the “haves” and the “have-not” start to take their toll on Beatriz’s mental state feels unrelentingly real. Lithgow’s slimy criminal real estate developer is a man you instantly hate as soon as he appears onscreen, and the evening grows more uncomfortable as drinks are consumed and truths are no longer left unspoken.
The film unfortunately ends with an unsatisfying (yet haunting) conclusion that feels more like the screenwriter was flailing around and scrambling for ideas at how to bookend a final chapter on his story than something profound. The finished product is executed well enough, but I left wanting so much more.