Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Written by: Mike White
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Early, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass
Nothing can be quite as awkward as when political discussions arise in what was thought to be a nice and pleasant dinner party. Add in some differing ideologies and you’ll have those who will get fiery in their debate and the others who will sink in their chair hoping that the madness will end. Mixing the comedy and the awkwardness from this type of situation makes Beatriz at Dinner an enjoyable delight that feels like an opportunity to vent.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) works as a masseuse and healer and has regular appointments to service the very wealthy Kathy (Connie Britton). On the latest trip, Beatriz’s car won’t start and her mechanic friend will not be able to arrive until later in the night, which complicates things as Kathy and her husband plan to have a dinner party with their wealthy friends. Kathy invites Beatriz to the dinner, where she meets a wide array of characters that live in privilege and do nothing but dispense microaggressions.
Nothing about Beatriz at Dinner can be described as subtle with who the characters represent and the rhetoric they spout in the film. The filmmakers behind this film had no issue being incredibly transparent of who they wanted to demonize and taunt. It begins by showing Beatriz and her more modest living arrangements and the literal climb it takes to get to Kathy’s opulent home. When tending to the regular appointments, Kathy treats Beatriz with respect, and her car breaking down takes away from the relationship dynamic she’s accustomed to. Beatriz, at that moment, socially switches from servicer to an acquaintance that she needs to introduce to her friends.
The friends arrive and we see archetypal characters form and gather. Kathy’s husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), initially hesitant to allow Beatriz to stay, finally allows it. Doug (John Lithgow) and Jenna (Amy Landecker) arrive, who represent a more mature couple that have lived their lives making deals at the expense of others. Doug builds hotels in “exotic” areas without any care for the communities he may be impacting. The other couple, Alex (Jay Duplass) and Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) represent the younger rising couple that aspire to reach the wealth and social standing of the other two couples.
The stage is set, we have our characters in their places, and the film lets all of the microaggressions and insensitive comments fly. The visual difference between the characters could not be starker. We have these designer-styled couples who come in their expensive vehicles while Beatriz walks around dressed in her normal working clothes. Oh, and she happens to be the only person in there to not be white and with a non-American accent. It creates a visual picture of the working and ruling class divide, so much so that when Beatriz tries to introduce herself to the men, Doug mistakes her for the help, which forces Grant to awkwardly correct him.
Once they all sit down for dinner, everything a person-of-color fears about being the only one in a very white space comes to fruition. The film has the intention of creating those awkward moments when everyone speaks on pleasantries and then it shifts into conversation that shows who these people really are. Doug has no issues spouting his opinions about various topics and he could care less what people think about it. He’s the easy one to break down, but through the evolution of these conversations everyone else reveals their true character and how they actually view people like Beatriz. Whether it be the microaggressions sent toward Beatriz or the outward racist comments that are said aloud and not condemned. That’s where the comedy and the horror mix. It makes it uncomfortable to watch but it exposes the people who pretend to be nice with others until political ideologies arise. As controversial as it may be, political beliefs say plenty about who people are, especially when it gets to the larger human rights topics.
Salma Hayek anchors the movie with the very mild-mannered approach in representing Beatriz. As with her profession, she attempts to keep calm through all of the underhanded comments in order to be polite but will not allow herself to be a receptacle of their ignorance. It would be easy to just smile and keep your mouth shut while wishing the time would move quickly, but she refuses and rightfully and logically pokes holes in the conversations. Hayek’s performance keeps everything grounded because John Lithgow comes in and becomes the representation of everything she’s against. He enjoys hunting wildlife in Africa, builds hotels all over the world, which screws over the local populations, and does not care when he obviously says offensive things. Their clash in the film makes it funnier to watch the others, as they try to change the subject and deviate from conversations they’re uncomfortable talking about when someone unlike them happens to be sitting at the table. You just know they’d enjoy the conversation if someone like Beatriz was not present.
Subtly is nice, but sometimes you need something that slaps you across the face and tells you who people truly are. Beatriz at Dinner invites you to have these awkward and revealing conversations that make you laugh and crawl into your seat the same time. For some it may be pure comedy but for people like me, who’s been in similar situations, it feels like a horror film. It works incredibly well in telling its story and while the setting may be vast, the conversations make everything feel tighter and claustrophobic because there’s no escape.