Film & Television

‘Beatriz at Dinner’: Standing Up or Minding Manners?

Hayek is marvelous as Beatriz. She is endlessly earnest, but stops short of turning the character into a saint or martyr. In fact, one of the richest aspects of the movie is that the supposed heroine, who meditates each day (in front of an altar that includes a portrait of the aforementioned, now deceased goat), is a bit off balance. It’s fascinating — and a little frightening — to watch this enlightened spirit go off the proverbial deep end, while the smoking, drinking, womanizing billionaire keeps his cool.

As Doug, John Lithgow (always powerful and so fine recently as Winston Churchill in The Crown is a very cool character indeed. He’s all bigger-than-life id and ego; no tiresome super-ego at all. He says what others only think and doesn’t waste a moment in regret. When he first notices Beatriz, he assumes she’s the hired help and asks for another drink. When she speaks about her childhood in Mexico, he asks if her family came here “legally.” On the flipside, however, when Beatriz surprises the group by bringing down a guitar and singing a plaintive Spanish song about wishing to return to the past, Doug is the only person who doesn’t squirm in discomfort. He is visibly moved and reaches for his wife’s hand. For someone who is blatantly dishonest in his business dealings, he is second only to Beatriz in his honesty.

Meanwhile, Cathy (nicely portrayed by Connie Britton), who initially claims that Beatriz is “a dear friend, family really,” personifies privileged guilt and duplicity. She graciously invites her masseuse to dinner, then questions the accidental guest’s attire. She brags about Beatriz’s spirituality, but is shocked by her candor. By the end of the night, it’s unlikely that Beatriz will be able to count Cathy as a client anymore.

Less dimensional are Grant (David Warshofsky), Jeana (Amy Landecker) and the other couple (including a sadly underused Chloe Sevigny and Jay Duplass). They brazenly revel in their success and good fortune; they certainly don’t understand why Beatriz is there in the first place. Unlike Cathy, they don’t pretend to like her. And unlike Doug, they don’t bother to speak to her — even to disagree with her — as though she’s actually a person.

Beatriz at Dinner is so topical, dealing as it does with the great division we’re witnessing in this country between haves and have nots, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. But, it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you are pro-Trump, you will probably take offense at how Doug is positioned as unapologetically greedy, egomaniacal and bigoted. If, however, you are anti-Trump, you won’t appreciate the shades of grey the filmmakers have infused into the conflict. Or how completely cringeworthy Beatriz’s dinner behavior is (not to mention her gruesome revenge fantasies).

The truth is, the movie makes you uncomfortable. And, it also makes you wonder. Assuming we were empowered by Beatriz’s conviction (and liquored up and mourning a goat), would we take a stand? Would we risk our hostess’s embarrassment? Would we confront and challenge Doug?

Alas, I’m guessing that most of us would rather mind our manners.

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  • Yamileth Canales January 5, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Wao, I just finished reading the whole review and let me tell you dear Alexandra that this was by far the best explanation I’ve read after watching the movie. You know, I definetly agree with you, when finishing the movie I had the feeling of curiosity and I was wondering if other spectators felt the same disconfort than me. But this are the kind of movies who change life, because they are not quiet, I don’t know if you got what I want to say, but this movies that are “simple” in their plot, are fire and rise voices. I just wanted to finish with a huge thanks because of the great job you did with this review. Greetings from the land of the incas, Perú!

    Reply
  • AA June 27, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for the review. I love movies that can make one feel a bit uncomfortable-lots of issues here that are current and controversial

    Reply