A light meal with just a hint of Trump.
Beatriz at Dinner
Director: Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck)
Screenplay: Mike White (Chuck and Buck)
Cast: Salma Hayeck (Frieda), John Lithgow
Runtime: 1 hr 22 min
by John DeSando
When Beatriz (Salma Hayeck), a holistic healer, goes to dinner with a group of high-rolling Californians at a posh home, fireworks ensue, and not the benign kind that make no noise. The candle lit shades are released into the air with the same abandon the real-estate mogul, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), dispatches big animals such as a beautiful rhino and poor people caught in his real estate digging.
Director Miguel Arteta creates slow-moving tension because he leaves time between conversations and enough unspoken for us to wonder how all this negativity is going to end. It’s Beatriz vs. Doug, the earth and animal loving masseuse vs. the earth, animal, and people destroying Trump-like bad guy.
Although the story is redolent of Trumpean excesses, even with the other aggressive business man and lawyer and their clueless wives at the dinner, Doug is unlike Trump because of Doug’s obvious intelligence and hint of soul. If you go to the film expecting a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf knock out verbal match, it doesn’t happen.
Beatriz and Doug get their brief chances to speechify their liberal-conservative obsessions, but then Arteta cuts away to the beach or some other signifier. In other words, it is somewhat disappointing to have so much emphasis on mood, atmosphere, and tone and less on outright verbal jousting.
As for the fake ending and the anticlimactic one, Arteta loses points on wishing for an almost magic realism touch when we are really left with no sense of how he would really like this all to end within the polemical boundaries of the dinner.
Nevertheless, Beatriz at Dinner is a philosophical and cultural buffet with enough provocative clashes to make you satisfied but not stuffed. “At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.” W. Somerset Maugham
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com