BEATRIZ AT DINNER: The Struggle Is Real

Money, race, and manners collide in this domestic drama.

Beatriz at Dinner features a small story that is big on ideas, conflict, and current social ills, all set on fire by two great actors duking it out with words and soft power.

Both Salma Hayek and John Lithgow shine in a movie full of great acting performances. Hayek’s Beatriz is a far cry from her more sexually-charged roles, with the titular character a soft-spoken but strong woman gifted in the arts of massage and natural healing.

This skill set is a perfect mix for Kathy (Connie Britton), the host for the dinner to come, and a most sympathetic member of the 1%. She makes Beatriz feel at home in her palatial oceanside estate, even keeping her crabby husband Grant (David Warshofsky) in check. While Beatriz still comes around for backrubs, her backstory with the family is much more involved.

Several years previous, cancer struck this household, and their daughter almost died from it. Beatriz was there throughout, bringing not only physical healing but an emotional healing to the entire family as well. From everything Kathy says, Beatriz is family, and to her credit, she acts like it.

The dinner party brings new players to the party, and ratchets up the tension. Beatriz stays because her car breaks down, but the rest are there to celebrate. Alex (Jay Duplass) is a young attorney basking in victory in a real estate venture, while his wife Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) is there to see what a future of being filthy rich looks like.

Lithgow’s Doug is the heaviest of heavy hitters. He’s done so many deals and made so much money that the world is truly his oyster. Only that kind of success in one area of life can lead a man to be so cocksure of his wisdom in all others. His wife Jeana (Amy Landecker) appears to keep him somewhat in check, but she’s the recipient of this same largesse, so it’s all an insiders’ game.

Where things take a turn for the worse is when Beatriz, born in Mexico but raised without her parents in the States, sees in Doug the exact same type of man who ruined her village, and by extension, her life. Just has Doug has done dozens of times, this man saw her town as nothing but a natural resource to be harvested.

As she confronts him about this crossed-purpose existence of their ideologies of life and death, kindness and cruelty are bandied about. While Doug sees her as just another commoner who “just doesn’t get it,” Beatriz is affected deeply. Seeing her grapple with the inhumanity in another human is a reflective exercise in grief and pain.

Director Miguel Arteta has done more than stage a meal disguised as class warfare. He has brought to life two ends of a struggle that spans all of civilization, where the First World eats off the remains of the Third. Top shelf actors make it a scene we can’t easily look away from.

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