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Beatriz at Dinner

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What’s it worth? Full Price

Where’s it showing? The Palm,
Stadium 10

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Director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, Cedar Rapids) directs screenwriter Mike White’s (The Good Girl, School of Rock, Nacho Libre) script about Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a holistic healer whose car breaks down, leading her to stay for a fancy dinner party at her wealthy clients Cathy (Connie Britton) and Grant’s (David Warshofsky) home. They’re gathered to celebrate the green light of a massive new shopping mall complex spearheaded by ruthless real estate tycoon Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), for whom Grant works. Other guests include Doug’s wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker), and Doug’s other employee, Alex (Jay Duplass), who was responsible for greasing the elected officials who OK’d the project, as well as Alex’s wife, Shannon (Chloë Sevigny). 

The film explores the chasm that exists between the haves and the have-nots, delineating the vastly different ways of thinking between conservatives and liberals. It’s painted in broad and somewhat clichéd strokes, but with Salma Hayek at one end of the spectrum and John Lithgow at the other, the performances transcend the film’s ham-fisted polemics. Beatriz is highly empathetic, almost to the point of being constantly overwhelmed by the ills she sees in the world. Doug is bilious and boorish, believing the poor get exactly what they deserve.

The film unfolds in poetic ways, largely because of the depth of Hayek’s performance but also because of the way the filmmakers weave Beatriz’s backstory involving the loss of her town in Mexico due to cruel American hotel developers, her intense love of animals, and her earnest belief that positivity can heal. She’s almost a saint, but Beatriz is also a fully realized character who struggles with her own feelings of impotence in the face of Doug Strutt’s ugly power. He represents everything she believes is wrong with the world, from his dismissal of the protestors who fight his projects, to his African big game hunting adventures, to his rejection of environmental concerns.

The other characters serve as various gradients along the Beatriz/Doug continuum, with Britton’s Cathy being the most liberal. She loves Beatriz because when Cathy’s daughter was sick with Hodgson’s Disease, Beatriz helped the girl through, but she represents how easily wealth and power corrupt. Cathy’s husband Grant is a sycophantic yes-man to Doug, as is Alex, who wants more than anything to ride Doug’s coattails into wealth and power. They have no moral compass. Doug’s wife Jeana—his third—and Alex’s wife Shannon are more interested in the trappings of wealth but still like to pretend to have concern for others.

The awkward interactions between the various group members are priceless and wonderfully written, but also cringe-worthy. There are laughs, but they’re the kind that get stuck in your throat. Tender moments abound. The film can certainly be accused of being didactic, but it’s more than mere liberal fantasy since Beatriz is a clearly flawed character. Still, it’s a beautiful story, wonderfully acted, and effectively executed by White and Arteta, who’ve proven themselves a solid team. (83 min.) 

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