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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