Salma Hayek is memorable as the Mexican-American therapist who through massage, and herbal and sound holistics softens the edges of pain and ennui. Her moist eyes and sensitivity shine as emblematically as her fiery, righteous anger. Her station wagon has broken down at the Newport, California seaside estate of her long time clients. She is graciously asked to dine at a catered celebration for the estate owner’s boss. Wishfully, Beatriz’s bumper sticker ironically reads ” All is One”.
John Lithgow is the smug and triumphant capitalist, Doug Strutt, who wants to be admired, and is by the three couples feteing his current real estate win. Lithgow adds a few “Trumpian” characteristics to his performance, but there is no need. We intuit the character connection. Doug’s memoir published by Random House is titled ” Life Is A Game-And Guess Who Won? “. Lithgow is gleefull when he intones: ” I have money so people listen.” Beatriz has goats, and one of them was killed.
Dinner party repartee is mostly downhill. Big game killing is broached as good for developing nations and their economy. Beatriz throws a cell phone at Doug, and screams, ” Are you for real!?” Doug smiles and counters with, ” Does she get out much?” The mogul versus immigrant theme leads to an unsatisfying last fifteen minutes where wish lanterns sent aloft and silent oars gliding by mangrove roots does nothing to cancel out.
Mike White as screenwriter has some work yet to do. Is “Beatriz at Dinner” a satire or a parable, or somewhere in between? His use of thought sequences akin to magic realism infuriates. The ambiguity left seems like lazy lack of closure. The viewer is left to do the work. Does the servant girl despair or simply wash her skin of any remnants of the deplorables. Director Miguel Arteta shows us the great divide of our times. There is no compromising. Murder, martyrdom, or ritual cleansing seem to be our only choices.
The other table guests are equally as shallow and as self-serving with the exception of the hostess Cathy played by Connie Britton. Britton’s Cathy, in contrast to her fawning underling husband, seems open to a less rigid marker between the economic haves and the have nots. For Cathy’s husband the rules are determined by beholdenness.
I wanted more: more banter, more in-depth debate, more script development. The film’s strengths rest on fine acting and attention to props like the Virgin Mary and Buddha swaying on the wagon’s dash. This gated community with its three security checks will have most patrons burning sage while knowing that the struggle is not the primal man vs. nature, but the equally primal man vs. man. My favorite line being Beatriz’s : “Try healing something, Doug.”