Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BEATRIZ AT DINNER: A Meager, Meaningless Meal

Now playing at an arthouse or multiplex that shows a few art films near you:


(Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2016)

I left the theater after this film in a state of bewilderment. For it has such a promising premise involving a working class member of the 99% confronting one of the most corrupt bigwig one percenters at a dinner party, but it doesn't know at all what to do with this narrative, and in the end it just gives up in way that seems designed to rub people wrong, and make them shake their heads.

A stoic Selma Hayak plays Beatriz, a masseuse who finds herself stranded at one of her rich client’s (Connie Britton) house, a McMansion in a gated community because her car won’t start after their session. Britton’s Kathy, an aging trophy wife, invites Beatriz to stay for dinner, despite her husband’s (David Warshofsky) objections.

Beatriz meets the snooty other guests including Jay Duplass and ChloĆ« Sevigny as Warshofsky’s business partner and wife, who are celebrating a big real estate deal with John Lithgow as a wicked Trump-like tycoon, who initially mistakes Beatriz for the help. Beatriz says she recognizes Lithgow’s character, whose name is Doug Strutt (he’s the only one in the film who has a last name) from somewhere, so she keeps trying to place him.

The tension escalates at dinner with Beatriz getting more and more offended at all of the glib, self-congratulatory chit-chat that Strutt and his fawning sycophants are continuously spouting while condescending to her. It comes to a head when Strutt shows off a cellphone picture of a rhinoceros he shot and killed on a hunting expedition in Africa. Beatriz throws his phone at Strutt and calls him “sick!”

There is some juicy material here but screenwriter Mike White’s dialogue just skates across the icy surface of possibilities. I kept preparing myself to enjoyably cringe during several edgy scenes, but kept being let down at how the film doesn’t dig deep into these people’s opposing philosophies. 
All of these characters, even Beatriz, are caricatures so there’s no real meat to the matter. No stirring arguments are presented, no revelations are exposed, nothing really interesting happens. 

And the ending is baffling. No spoilers but it caps off an unpleasant experience in a dreary manner that I bet most people will find to be extremely unsatisfying. BEATRIZ AT DINNER is a wasted opportunity to say something profound about class distinctions, race relations, and human nature. It promises dinner but all it can gather is a meager, meaningless meal.

More later...

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