Movie Review - Beatriz at Dinner

The screenplay presents a potentially interesting premise but never follows through with it. The movie instead drops the ball or rather it drops the knife. It presents a bleak view of the world, a pessimistic one or perhaps a defeatist view. Essentially, the movie settles on either murder or suicide. It's very extreme given how short this film is. Given what little information we have of the titular character, it's also not enough to go with either option. One is not quite sure where the movie is headed at the beginning. At first, it seems like it might be a critique of the wealthy, a glimpse into their lives, their opulence and snobbish or superficial values with particular focus on their disregard for nature. After a while, it then seems as if it might become a revenge tale of one woman who has lost everything and has decided to exact it on the man who presumably takes everything. Instead of leaning into that, this movie side-steps or back-tracks from that idea.

Salma Hayek (Frida and Desperado) stars as Beatriz, a health practitioner in Santa Monica who works in a cancer center. She has an apartment filled with her pets, a few dogs and also a goat. In the opening scene, we see she has a pen set-up in her bedroom for her goat. She's originally from Mexico.

Connie Britton (Nashville and Friday Night Lights) co-stars as Kathy, the wife to a wealthy man who lives presumably in Newport Beach, California, within a rich, gated community in a very huge house. Her husband is some kind of wealthy investor or banker. She's helping him host a dinner party with two, other wealthy couples. One couple is a husband and wife where the husband is too a banker but a younger hotshot. The other couple is one where the husband is a developer and builder of commercial real-estate, which some have compared to Donald Trump.

John Lithgow (The Crown and 3rd Rock From the Sun) also stars as Doug Strutt, the developer and commercial builder in question. He's on his third wife. He's currently working on a deal to erect a hotel and Kathy's husband, Grant, is supposed to help him or partner with him to accomplish it. Doug, however, is charming and interesting as a person. He's certainly more vivacious and less repulsive than Trump. It helps that Emmy-winner Lithgow is such a lively presence and he's not menacing. Yes, he's at times bigoted and materialistic, but Lithgow does imbue him with some humanity.

Unfortunately, it's not enough for Beatriz. She believes that he's the developer who basically destroyed her town in Mexico after a bad deal that promised a hotel but ended up devastating the land and the people. This caused her a lot of pain, which resulted in her having to leave her home and come to the United States. She suspects that Doug is the man responsible. The movie then briefly becomes a mystery of whether or not Doug is guilty of indirectly hurting Beatriz. However, that mystery is quickly abandoned. Doug isn't the one who hurt Beatriz. He's similar to the guy but not the actual guy.

It feels like a cop-out though. Yes, it would have been an incredible coincidence, but it would have been forgivable if it led to a real confrontation where the characters could face each other with something real between them. It would have allowed the movie to deal with the issues in a more solid way. At one point, Doug accuses Beatriz of being an illegal immigrant, whereas Doug probably has illegally developed lands. Instead of being able to debate this contradiction, the movie skirts over it.

Hayek, the Oscar-nominee, gives a good performance, but she has a distance to her character that director Miguel Arteta never really bridges. That distance is intentional to show how removed she is from these rich characters. Hayek is physically far from the other actors in the frame. Hayek does spend a lot of this movie staring coldly and blankly. She does have really fiery moments, but, for some reason, the ice and fire are jarringly disjointed. There's a divide that simply isn't connected.

Rated R for language and a scene of violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.

Available on DVD / VOD.


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