Beatriz at Dinner

The kind of quiet movie I don’t often watch anymore because of a number of factors… including watching fewer movies overall… it’s also a quite good, small, thought-provoking, carefully written and acted little film that’ll stay with you and give you plenty to think about.

Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, Southern California massage therapist and energy healer of Mexican descent who works at a cancer center and in clients’ homes. The main hook of the film is that her car breaks down at the home of one of her clients, a wealthy woman with a Cliffside mansion, and she ends up the unintended additional dinner guest with their rich friends, one of whom [played by John Lithgow] is a brash Trump-like real estate mogul, the kind of guy whose properties in Mexico displace families and destroy villages… just like the ones Beatriz comes from. As you can imagine, there are several ways the film could overstep, from having Beatriz be too preachy or sanctimonious, or Lithgow be too much of a caricature or monster, and perhaps its biggest accomplishment is that it keeps all of its elements in balance without tipping too far in a direction that would cause the audience to shut off.

The film opens with a vision of a white goat among a watery expanse of mangroves, and consistently returns to visions in Beatriz’s head, which works to give the whole film an artfulness that offers welcome respite from pure political polemic. The supporting cast of three Real Housewives types [including Chloe Sevigny, who scores laughs every time] and two Alpha-business dudes are all spot-on with their characters and their perfectly-written dialogue that is both astonishingly obtuse and sheltered, yet completely realistic for these characters. Beatriz is also less passive and righteous than you might fear, and she’s not about to just disappear into the shadows or apologize for her existence. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of simply looking at Hayek’s face as she listens to the conversations of the others, and the camera often focuses on the back of her head as she takes in the strange world she’s suddenly thrust into.

It twists and turns in ways not wholly expected, although what’s most surprising are the expected routes it chooses not to take. You keep expecting to go one way… and then it doesn’t. There is one possibility opened up toward the end that I would have been satisfied if the movie had followed through on… it was set up and would be thematically sound… but the movie isn’t content to be that simple, to its credit, although the conclusion it does choose can be seen as very hopeless and dark.

Regardless, a good, well-acted, very well-written and directed film that will give you a few minor chuckles and a lot to think about. You will marvel at its light touch and grace. My only complaint is that I could have used about 30 minutes more social satire with the wealthy people.

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6 thoughts on “Beatriz at Dinner

  1. I, too, would have been happy with the possibility that the denouement was headed for, and would discuss the direction the movie took instead, except that I don’t want to ruin it for other viewers. Miraculously, this movie has been showing in our Midwestern city, at the bargain theater (all seats $3.50), which occasionally takes in relatively obscure art films (this theater also showed “The Red Turtle”, which I highly recommend). Thanks for bringing this film to our attention.

    (Another one currently showing at this theater is “The Hero”, with your main man, Sam Elliot.)

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    • I think you’re fine to discuss all you want if you just mark it as a spoiler. I’ve heard good things about the Red Turtle. The Sam Elliott film… totally looks like something that’ll appear on Netflix! So I might wait… Thanks for commenting…

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      • SPOILER ALERT!

        I wondered how you interpreted Beatriz’s final solution; was she simply exhausted, overwhelmed with despair at the enormity of trying to heal and sustain life in the face of a death-dealing world? Or was this a kind of statement to the Lithgow character that he, as the source of death, had made her a casualty as well? I tried to imagine how the wealthy folks might react to news of her death, and if they would feel any remorse about her and their lives in general (I’m thinking, Naaahhh…). I also wondered how that poor towtruck driver was going to explain it to the cops. As you say, the movie stays with you.

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  2. Response to Barry…SPOILERS ALSO. I found the ending a bit approaching a cop-out. She’s overwhelmed and she just walks into the sea [although don’t forget the mysterious image of the dark stain in the water earlier… ]. I don’t think anyone at dinner thought of her at all once she left. I think the writer and director may have had a particular interpretation in mind, but I have no idea what it might have been. It was also a bit disappointing that she turned the destruction in upon herself, although maybe the idea is that she’s just THAT broken by the whole thing, and finally gave up hope.

    As I said, in this case I would have been fine had she actually killed Lithgow. For one, there was the earlier conversation about how she HEALS and he KILLS, and I could have gotten into it if she decided it would be a good use of her life, or if she began to see it as her purpose in life, to take someone like that out. But my main feeling when I left is that the filmmakers had painted themselves a bit into a corner, and weren’t really sure which way to go… so they threw on a relatively uncontroversial ending and called it a day.

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  3. I’m not sure about the movie’s end. She did mutter to the Lithgow character that he “killed” her friend. I liked the movie up until the point where the screenplay chose what ending to use, but it seemed half-baked on the whole. Hayak gave a very good performance matched with Lithgow, but the ending leaves me unsatisfied, with unanswered questions.

    Scott, nice to see you online again!

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