Beatriz at Dinner sets the table for an engaging film. It’s got a star, in this case, Salma Hayek going outside her comfort zone taking on a very different role from her norm. An intimate, dialogue rich authentic sounding script and strong supporting performances. But it never amounts to enough to be fully satisfying.
Hayek (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) is Beatriz, a holistic medical practitioner. Before wrapping up another shift, she travels to a longtime client’s home for a massage. When Beatriz’s car breaks down, her client (Connie Britton) insists she join her husband’s dinner party. The guests are clearly not the kind Beatriz would typically hang out with after hours. There’s the up and coming attorney (Jay Duplass) and his wife (Chloë Sevigny) and the loudmouth boss, Doug (John Lithgow, The Accountant) and his third wife (Amy Landecker).
Director Miguel Arteta sets things up showing the opulence of the home, which is so posh it requires two security gates. The setting is gorgeous with a backdrop that just fades into the sky and clever perspectives to reinforce Beatriz’s outsider status.
Mike Wright’s script starts a thoughtful examination of rich people’s problems. Their smug sense of entitlement, disregard for people and dismissive demeanor to things beneath them. There’s no doubt Doug proudly has a MAGA hat as he questions Beatriz on her legal status and background. The film is at its best early on. That’s due to some funny moments with Beatriz continually interjecting herself into this status party.
In Beatriz, Wright has the vessel to confront them head on and call them out on their BS. With her easy smile and warm demeanor, Beatriz is the kind of character you’d root to see take these one-percenters down a notch or 20. Instead, Wright paints Beatriz like a weirdo who’s socially awkward and ill-matched to engage the guests in any kind of debate.
While the film doesn’t offer enough fulfillment, Hayek is amazing. The makeup and clothing department can only do so much to make Hayek look homely, but it’s her performance that sells Beatriz’s journey from happy-go-lucky to beaten down and demoralized. There’s a weariness and pain Hayek conveys so effectively and thoughtfully. Beatriz has a deeper backstory Wright fails to develop.
It’s a shame one of her best performances is wasted on such an underwhelming film. Lithgow also turns in a strong performance. In his hands, Doug isn’t the typical antagonist. He has a general self-awareness that he’s not a great guy that too easily explains away his casual racism and general boorish behavior. Beatriz at Dinner seems like it wants to build to this big confrontation between Doug and Beatriz, but Wright won’t commit to paying it off. Britton is also excellent as the client who makes herself feel good by taking a partial interest in Beatriz without ever truly knowing her.
Maybe it was expecting too much to hope that Beatriz would somehow magically get this elite crowd to think of the little people. In the real world, the interaction would likely play out just as it does in the film.
Still, that raises the question of the film’s point in the first place. It’s not some revelation that a lot of rich people don’t care about others and think their bank account makes them better than others. Even with a brief 82 minute run time, the film feels long due to the rinse and repeat structure.
Arteta further builds up the tension with extended close ups and lingering glares, but ultimately, it never amounts to anything. That’s even before the film’s frustrating final 10 minutes, which almost seems to conclude a completely different film.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Roadside Attractions