‘Beatriz At Dinner’ DVD Review: Salma Hayek Shines In Tension-Filled Dramedy
Stories of social class/cultural warfare have been told through many different lenses in Hollywood films for several decades now, and many seem to fall into the same cliches. Beatriz at Dinner certainly includes some stereotypes, but not enough to dismiss it as an offensive story.
On the contrary, director Miguel Arteta‘s (Youth in Revolt, The Good Girl, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and screenwriter Mike White (The Good Girl, School of Rock) fish-out-of-water comedy-drama is both witty and raw in a very refreshing way. Though filled with tension and heartbreak — interspersed with doses of awkward humor, of course — the film gives a very plausible answer to the question: What would happen if a poor Latino immigrant woman attended a fancy feast?
That’s exactly what Beatriz at Dinner talks about. Academy Award nominee Salma Hayek plays the titular character, a poor woman from a small town in Mexico who works as a masseuse/spiritual therapist in California. She owns a pet goat, although it is revealed at the start of the film that she owns more than one and that one of the goats was killed by her neighbor. One day, Beatriz goes to work at the house of one of her wealthy clients, a woman named Kathy (Connie Britton), who lives in a mansion by the sea with her husband Grant (David Warshofsky). Beatriz is particularly close to them because she helped spiritually heal their daughter Tara, who was diagnosed with cancer at a young age.
After Beatriz’s old Volkswagen refuses to start, she calls a tow truck but tells Kathy it will be a while until it comes. Since the sun is close to setting, Kathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner, and thus the foreign holistic healer is stuck in the lavish home of her clients/friends for the night. Kathy and Grant invite two couples for dinner, whose husbands are business associates of Grant’s. Among them are lawyers (Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass) and a renown ruthless, avaricious — and prejudiced — real-estate developer named Doug Strutt (Oscar nominee John Lithgow).
Unsurprisingly, Beatriz (who dons simple clothes and a strange haircut, with a fringe that does not make Hayek look her usual bombshell self at all) sticks out like a sore thumb all throughout the night, and her and Doug end up clashing quite a few times, especially after ingesting copious amounts of wine.
Hayek undoubtedly makes the film what it is, and delivers one of the best performances of her career in playing a character that is a stark departure from her typical sexy roles. Beatriz’s initial hesitation and naivete — which eventually morphs into pure anger and disgust — is quite likable, and Hayek displays all her character’s inhibitions and audacious behavior with an authenticity that is more than satisfying: it’s poignant.
Lithgow is also stellar and infuriating as the shameless, superficial Donald Trump-esque antagonist. The dim lighting throughout most of the film, coupled with a soft score and soundtrack that matches the dialogue very well, help reinforce the enormously tense and uncomfortable mood that pervades the film.
The ending also leaves the viewer with a very serious reflection about socioeconomic dynamics that is quite relevant, particularly as the story comes full circle in a very unexpected way.
The DVD’s special features include a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as a commentary with the director and writer.
Overall, Beatriz at Dinner proves to be exactly the type of captivating flick that is both unexpectedly funny and incredibly tragic, and whose protagonist feels so real she could very well leap off the screen and become one of us: an everyday woman who is simply attempting to get by life without bothering anyone and by genuinely caring for others.
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