Published on August 23rd, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Beatriz at Dinner
Beatriz at Dinner, though it was written a couple of years ago, feels like a movie that was made for 2017’s politically divisive Trumpy times.
Ugh, she’s a hugger. Beatriz is a Mexican-American massage therapist and holistic practitioner in Los Angeles, played by Salma Hayek. She’ real touchy feely, and even owns a goat (though a neighbour wants to kill it because of its constant bleating). When she travels some distance to give a massage to a wealthy client, Kathy (Connie Britton), her car breaks down and Kathy invites her to stay for a dinner party. At dinner, she encounters people from a lifestyle that is largely in opposition to her beliefs, especially the guest of honour, Doug (John Lithgow), a hardcore capitalist (and big game hunter).
Doug might as well be a stand in for Trump, though writer Mike White (School of Rock, HBO’s Enlightened) actually wrote this script a couple of years ago. Some on the right of the political spectrum will no doubt bristle at the portrayal of their ilk, and one reviewer called it “an insanely heavy handed liberal fantasy,” citing that it makes a hero of Beatriz and fools of her counterparts. While I would agree that some of the characters come off as stereotypes, I actually thought this reviewer couldn’t be more wrong — Beatriz at Dinner made the liberal side look much worse, shrill and mentally ill.
Or, at least, it made Beatriz, as the representative of the left, look severely unbalanced. While watching, I couldn’t decide if she was poorly written as over the top because the script needed her to keep re-engaging people at the party or whether she was actually a little bit insane. She’s as annoying and clueless as the other dinner guests are varying degrees of vulgar. She may not agree with their 1% lifestyle, but she’s an invited guest, and she actively tries to destroy their dinner party.
I stayed at the home of a hardcore Trump supporter once, who would regale me with all sorts of “facts” culled from Fox News. I did a lot of nodding and smiling, while I ate their food, drank their liquor, and politely imbibed of their otherwise wonderful hospitality. Sometimes she seems to be acting almost against her own will, which again, is either a brilliant depiction of mental illness or bad writing, making a character do something they wouldn’t do. The script wants to give you some reasons as to why Beatriz can’t bite her tongue, but it doesn’t seem enough to justify her rudeness (unless, of course, she is mentally ill, and then what is the script saying about the left?).
While some of the characters are heavy-handed and mired in stereotype (John Lithgow’s character might as well be twirling a long moustache in places), I thought the film did a good job of flipping those stereotypes too. When Beatriz starts saying crazy shit and acting aggressively, the rich assholes are all genuinely polite to her. Either the script has been flipped or something is wrong with the universe if you find yourself siding with the assholes in a movie like this. Beatriz becomes part of the intolerant left call out culture, which is just as frustrating as intolerance on the right. I love the idea of a movie that looks at both the right and the left, from a centrist point of view, to show the folly of being dogmatic about either side, but Beatriz at Dinner is too messy to have captured this well.
I won’t give away the ending, but it felt forced as well, as if the story had nowhere to go so they just went a bit surreal. (We also need to stop using the trope where someone does something only to cut back to seconds before and whump — they were imaging the whole thing! It’s a cheap, overused gimmick).
Anyway, I’m coming down pretty hard — Beatriz at Dinner is a clever and likeable enough movie, with some great moments and witty banter. Hayek is excellent and John Lithgow makes the sometimes cardboard character feel more real. I just wish it had been a bit more effective at capturing the nuances in both people and their political arguments. Even for a wince-inducing cringe comedy, the movie had too many moments of people doing frustrating things that didn’t make a lot of sense in favour of their respective point of views.
Which, I have to admit, is like watching people argue about politics in real life.