Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Directed by Miquel Arteta
“Beatriz” means “she who brings joy.” And Beatriz, played by Selma Hayek, intends to do just that. A masseuse and non-traditional healer, she finds joy in the little things: a sunset, an ocean, a bleating goat. But when an unlucky coincidence strands her at the home of a customer, right before guests are to arrive for dinner, she meets her match. Joy can only get you so far when dealing with someone like Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a millionaire real estate developer with more concern for his bottom line than for the wildlife he demolishes on the way to financial success. As the night progresses, the tensions between these polar opposites will reach a point of boiling over.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is, to put it directly, a liberal wet dream. It’s another excuse to nod our heads violently in agreement until they roll off our shoulders. Resisting President Donald Trump is like a drug for us. This is just another satisfying puff. And for the record, of course I think Trump is the worst President of all time. But we get too much enjoyment out of moral superiority. And yes, of course I think liberalism is morally superior. But I watch so much CNN that I don’t need another reminder of that. Of course, many, many movies can be read as anti-Trump. Whether they were made this year or fifty years ago, tons of films have extra significance now, when viewed in the context of “the Trump phenomenon” (by that I mean the wave of xenophobia, religious superiority, anti-political correctness, and anti-correctness that seemed to reveal itself once a Presidential candidate told them they were justified in feeling that way). But “Beatriz at Dinner” may be the first real example of a movie written as a direct rebuttal to Donald Trump’s particular brand of billionaire bombast. In fact, I see no other purpose that it serves. That’s a big problem.
Writer Mike White, who struck screenwriting gold in 2017 with “Brad’s Status,” fails to make a compelling case for why we should invest ourselves in this feud between Beatriz and Doug (and, of course, the bystanders who all fall on some sort of spectrum between always siding with Beatriz and always siding with Doug). It’s too easy for most people to decide which side they’re on. You very likely can tell just from this review. And the discussions they have are not particularly new or intriguing. We’ve all had arguments like this. Over the holiday season, I’m sure some of you had those conversations. Despite the performance that Selma Hayek gives—warm, relatable, convincing—Beatriz is as predictable as characters come. “Beatriz” means “she who brings joy,” remember? From this, she doesn’t really deviate. “Doug” must mean “callous asshole.” He rarely deviates either. It’s this dichotomy that becomes the undoing of “Beatriz at Dinner.” Unless you need another outlet for you to nod your head right off your shoulders (whether it’s with Beatriz or Doug), this is one meal you’re better off skipping.