Salma Hayek has a choice role in director Miguel Arteta’s searing “Beatriz at Dinner,” which pits her as a Mexican immigrant against a rich, Donald Trump-like wheeler-dealer and exploiter with no social conscience. Since he is played by the superb John Lithgow, the battle line is drawn at what turns out to be a dinner party from hell.
In the screenplay by Mike White, Hayek plays Beatriz, who makes a living giving massages in California and helps cancer patients in a healing center. She leads a spiritual life as a person who longs to do good and takes solace in keeping animals. The set-up for the confrontation occurs when her car breaks down while she is visiting Kathy (Connie Britton), whom she has come to massage one day and with whom she has a friendly relationship. Kathy invites her to stay overnight and for the dinner party at the mansion in which she resides with her husband Grant (David Warshofsky).
As the guests arrive it is clear that Beatriz is like a fish out of water. She is dressed simply and cuts an insignificant figure in the upscale company. Lithgow as Doug Strutt is flamboyant, brags about his business acumen and also about his success as a big game hunter. Grant is involved in a deal with Doug. Beatriz is stunned when she realizes that Doug is the same developer against whom she and others protested as an exploiter of people in Mexico.
Beatriz, with an air of firm authenticity, is no shrinking violet, and when she speaks her mind and challenges Doug on moral grounds, the stage is set for the film’s intense examination of relative values in life and the downtrodden versus the rich. The dinner party becomes wracked with embarrassment and a call is made for someone to come to haul Beatriz’s car away—along with Beatriz.
How will it all end? The director and screenwriter resort to trickery that gives us a double ending—what we think happens and then what really happens. I prefer the first ending, but see for yourself and come to your own conclusion.
Either way, the film is a solid indictment of Doug and his ilk in contrast to people like Beatriz, who stand for those who are exploited in the cause of profits and points to the lack of concern for lives that are destroyed in a society in which capitalists run rampant. And, we might loosely add, can even become President. A Roadside Pictures release. Reviewed June 9, 2017.