Beatriz At Dinner

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Salma Hayek, Connie Britton and Chloe Sevigny in Beatriz At Dinner - Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico, has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner. Doug Strutt is a cutthroat, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide and neither will ever be the same.
"The satire feels a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, with Strutt so monstrous he's an easy target."

Dinner parties have long made good settings for directors working on limited budgets, presenting an opportunity for a self-contained - and frequently squirmy - clash of ideas. There's little doubting hat long-time collaborators Miguel Arteta and Mike White (Chuck And Buck, The Good Girl) had Donald Trump in mind when they were creating real estate developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). He's a self-satisfied, self-made man who lacks any redeeming features, which is part of the film's problem.

The character of Beatriz herself (Salma Hayek on fine form) is also too broad for comfort. She's a Mexican emigre New Age type who seems happy to latch on to whatever religion suits her - as indicated by the Buddha on her car dashboard and Catholic icon hanging from the rear view mirror. She's also a cancer care worker and a vegan - it's amazing we aren't shown the non-cow version of butter steadfastly refusing to melt in her mouth.

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She's on a visit to her wealthy client Cathy (Connie Britton) when her car unexpectedly breaks down leading to an invitation to dinner. Beatriz drifts into this almost like an independent observer, struggling to find any connection with Cathy's husband Grant (David Warshofsky), a situation that only becomes worse once his filthy rich client Strutt and his wife (Amy Landecker) arrive along with a younger couple (Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny), both given frustratingly little to do except look beautiful, although perhaps that is the point.

The meat of this film happens in the second act, as Strutt's verbal strutting about his big game hunting and devil-may-care development plans runs up against Beatriz, who, fortified by wine, has no intention of staying silent on the subject. Arteta and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield give Hayek a sense of splendid isolation from the rest of the group, as though she is much a spectre haunting them as a spectator. Lithgow, meanwhile, gives it both barrels, but much of best of the humour stems from the others reacting - or attempting politely not to react - to what is going on. The satire feels a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, while the character of Beatriz remains frustratingly opaque, as though White was unsure exactly what to do with her once he had her in this position.

That problem becomes worse as the film enters its final furlong, in which we're expected to believe that Beatriz would do things that seem utterly at odds with what has gone before. There are plenty of moments to enjoy here but they would be better if White and Arteta pulled back a little more instead of ramming their message down our throat.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2017
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A masseuse clashes with a real estate developer over a mansion meal.

Director: Miguel Arteta

Writer: Mike White

Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Chloë Sevigny, Connie Britton, Nina Arianda, Amy Landecker, John Early, Jay Duplass, David Warshofsky, Natalia Abelleyra

Year: 2017

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2017

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