Tropic Sprockets / Beatriz at Dinner

By Ian Brockway

Films centering around a single dinner  have been very much in vogue. There is “The Dinner” starring Richard Gere featuring a very toxic family. Or “The Beguiled” about an unwelcome Union soldier invited to the dining room, headlined by Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. And from 2015 there is “The Invitation” with  Logan Marshall-Green as an ex-husband who attends a very unfortunate party hosted by his former wife.

With three stressful dinner-defined films this year alone, you may want to rethink the compulsion to ask for seconds at your next holiday. From Miguel Arteta here is another crisis-at-dinner story entitled “Beatriz at Dinner” and this time it is John Lithgow who is attending, playing a character with his selfishness showing.

Holistic healer Beatriz (Salma Hayek) travels to a mansion in California to give a massage to Kathy (Connie Britton) who is hosting a business party with her land developer husband Grant (David Warshofsky). Beatriz’s car breaks down and Kathy extends the invitation, despite it being business related. Beatriz reluctantly accepts. Kathy is thrilled and glowingly talks about Beatriz to a couple of early guests, Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) and Alex (Jay Duplass). 

Things are going rather well, then Doug Strutt arrives (Lithgow) with his wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker). Beatriz has the unshakable feeling that she has met the large and jowly businessman before. Strutt is oblivious and mistakes her for a server. The arrogant man is tongue tied, but tries to make a joke of it, very weakly.

In a moment of spontaneity, Beatriz tends to Strutt’s neck and receives an image of blood on the wetlands. She is taken aback when Strutt states that progress on a new shopping mall should move forward at all cost, to the point of the disposal of birds, native to the area. 

During dessert, Strutt shares a photo taken on his latest African trip, which clearly shows himself posing vainly with an innocent rhino that he had shot with a rifle, killing the animal as a supposed human right.

An understandably disgusted Beatriz hurls the smartphone at the gloating businessman and runs from the room.

The story is greatly helped by the acting of  Hayek whose complete and utter spaced out horror elevates the polarity. Lithgow is terrific also as the cold billionaire who is nonetheless fascinated by the progressive therapist invariably staring as if she is a faraway animal, wild and strange.

Though it is hard to find much fault with the film as it all rolls by with predictable yet satisfying tension, the story would be better served if it were less declarative and over-the-top in intent. As it is, Lithgow is the Business Prick and Hayek is the Earthy Sensitive. Both characters are described in boldface, each in their own capsule with precious little daring development or provocative insights discovered. One unexpected surprise or a whiff of subtlety would have made a more thrilling tonic.

Still, the acting is first rate especially by Salma Hayek who portrays herself as an empath sincerely stunned, in a place without words. For those who like their drama  underscored with capitals, “Beatriz at Dinner” makes a satisfying meal with some digestif entertainment in the category of ‘Just Desserts.’

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