Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Beatriz is a healer, a holistic health practitioner, whose car breaks down at a wealthy client’s house after she gave her a massage.  The client invites her to stay for a celebratory dinner party her husband and herself are hosting that night.  Like a fish out of water, Beatriz has dinner with three extremely wealthy couples with whom she has little to nothing in common.

Written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, Beatriz at Dinner takes the two opposing lifestyles and pits them against each other through discussion, viewpoints, opinions, and values.  The situation shows itself first through comparison on houses, clothing, and other visual cues in the film, then as the characters get to know Beatriz and vice-versa, their differences start to show in more than the price of their houses, cars, and clothes.  The divide gets wider as the character get deeper into their values and beliefs.  Of course, it can be guessed which the writer and director want to show as to which is better and which is worse.  However, it is not pushed down the viewer’s throat, but they are left to make up their own minds, depending on their own values and core beliefs.  The film shows both sides as doing things not necessarily the right way, but of course, one may come up on top in terms of what is right.  The film does not take the viewer for an idiot, creating a story that is easy to follow and yet has a lot of messages in terms of good versus bad in our society.  The way they leave some questions unanswered also helps in achieving this goal.

The choice of cast here was very important.  In the lead, Salma Hayek plays a passionate woman with a heart of gold and the hands of an angel.  She shows her character’s interest in every living being through her actions and emotions.  A lot goes on in her expressions, her face and body language giving as much to the performance as her words and how she delivers them.  Playing her polar opposite, John Lithgow is direct, strong, and opinionated.  He is not the funny Lithgow here, but the very serious one with the occasional touch of humor.  His performance balances with Hayek’s beautifully.  The rest of the cast including Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplas, and John Early, all give good performance with a few spots of unevenness, but those are barely noticeable, giving the ensemble strength and cohesion.

The film takes places mostly in one mansion in a Los Angeles gated-community.  This house is used to almost its full potential, with great views outside the house, its yard, and some of its rooms.  The kitchen, dining room, and living room show opulence with taste which contrasts beautifully well with Beatriz’ house which is more personal, more cramped, but also less interior-decorator-y.  The way this is all shot by Wyatt Garfield gives both houses as well as the clinic where Beatriz works character and personality, establishing the characters living and working there even more differences and show of their values.

Beatriz at Dinner is a fairly short feature film that is easy to watch even though it deals with many harder subjects throughout its runtime.  It doesn’t push its agenda down the viewer’s throat, leaving them to follow along and make up their own mind.  The performances are strong all around, with Salma Hayek giving a stellar turn as Beatriz.  It’s a film that looks good, sounds good, has great performances, and does not handhold the viewer through everything going on, every opinion they should form about the characters and their lives.

In Select Theaters Friday.