All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions
At one point or another, we all have been faced with the dilemma of going to a dinner party where we do no know anyone but the host. For many, this can cause social anxiety and also dreaded moments of awkward small talk. In addition to presenting yourself thoughtfully and participating in proper dining room etiquette, there is always a lingering feeling of acceptance. You want to feel like you belong and, to a certain degree, impress your fellow guests. In Miguel Arteta’s BEATRIZ AT DINNER, the social anxiety is cranked up to full blast as very timely issues surface between the soft-spoken, yet strong-minded Beatriz and a self-centered, arrogant businessman to provide rousing dinner conversation and, in turn, one delightfully intense of a film about the division of class and race.
Salma Hayek steps into the role of the titular Beatriz, a spiritual immigrant who is grounded in the world of holistic healing. When she visits one of her well-meaning one-percenter client Kathy (Connie Britton) at her Newport Beach mansion, her car breaks down. Being the nice and welcoming woman she is, Kathy invites her to stay for a dinner party against the wishes of her more uptight husband (David Warshofsky).
She may seem like a fish out of water, but Beatriz is at ease in this foreign environment as she mingles with the guests including successful lawyer Alex (Jay Duplass), his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny), no-nonsense businessman Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker). The mood changes from cordial to aggressive once they sit down for dinner and Doug starts talking about his ruthless business practices and bragging about his hunting escapades in Africa. With each unfiltered anecdote of privilege Beatriz slowly becomes more and more unraveled and eventually let’s out a surprising outburst of rage that surprises the guests and herself. Needless to say, things get lit and it is joy — and a heartbreaking spectacle to watch.
Beatriz at Dinner is very relevant today because, well, just look at the story: clueless rich white people fail to connect or empathize with an immigrant. They may put on a facade that they show concern, but it’s hollow and is rooted out of selfishness rather than selflessness. Writer Mike White crafted a poignant script pits the white privileged patriarchy against the person of color who has to work twice as hard to get half as far. It’s a conversation that has been on the forefront as of late, but Arteta and White approach identity politics and social status with nuance. It traps you in an intimate setting that riles up resentment and, based on the end of the film gives you the feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Yeah, it isn’t exactly a happy ending, but there is still a feeling of resilience that resonates throughout the film and when the credits roll, you’ll be even more encouraged to fight against ignorance and topple the patriarchy.
Hayek commands the screen as Beatriz, flowing in and out of serenity to rage without compromising character. As the Joker to her Batman, Lithgow has no problem being the ultimate a**hole, reflecting the current climate of rich straight white men under the rule of 45. The exchange between is a sociopolitical tennis match that will make your skin crawl and make your blood pressure rise.
The film puts the spotlight on the thriving ignorance and frustrating juggernaut that is white privilege but also brings us back to Hayek’s controversial conversation with comedian/actress Jessica Williams during Sundance, where Beatriz premiered. During an all-female roundtable discussion about women in Hollywood, the topic of race and privilege entered the fold in which Hayek basically talked over Williams asking, “Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?” Williams held her ground responding ““A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman. Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.” In this case, Hayek was in the role of Lithgow and Williams in that of Hayek. I wonder if Hayek meant to do that. That said, Beatriz barely scratched the surface when it comes to identity politics and the conversation between Hayek and Williams is an unexpected case of life imitating art…but I digress.
Beatriz at Dinner has elements of comedy and drama, but at the end of the day, Arteta and White created a film that, in it’s own special way, is in the same camp as the socially-minded thriller Get Out. Beatriz is essentially stranded and forced to have dinner and conversation with dangerous pale-faced, whiskey-guzzling, canape-eating monsters. It’s timely, provocative, and provides a different, clever angle to the conversation of race, social status, and the horror of white privilege.
Running time: 83 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic