Disarming in its simplicity, Beatriz at Dinner establishes a believable premise for a dinner party where things go terribly wrong. It’s a tribute to writer Mike White, director Miguel Arteta and their superior cast that this allegorical story never jumps the rails, as it easily could.
Winning ingredient number one is Salma Hayek. She is exceptionally good as a Mexican-American healer who is devoted to her patients at a recovery center in Santa Monica, California. One day she drives to an exquisite home in Newport Beach to give a massage to a client (Connie Britton) with whom she’s had a close relationship. When Hayek’s car breaks down in the driveway Britton insists that she stay for dinner, over the objections of her husband. He doesn’t share his wife’s compassion, and besides, this is a business-related meal where the guest of honor is a high-powered developer (John Lithgow). Beatriz is casually dressed and out of place in the company she’s about to keep.
Like Hayek, Lithgow disappears into the role of the real-estate mogul and the crass remarks he makes seem frighteningly genuine. He doesn’t know how awful he sounds as he issues his pronouncements. What’s worse, he doesn’t care. He gets under Hayek’s skin, especially after she’s had several glasses of wine. Their conversation is awkward for the other dinner guests, and for us in the audience.
That’s the setup of Beatriz at Dinner: straightforward, some would even say simplistic…but it could happen. The skill of its execution make it compelling, even suspenseful at times. Whether or not you accept the conclusion is up to you.
Besides Connie Britton the ensemble includes Jay Duplass, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker and David Warshofsky. The conviction they bring to their work makes Mike White’s script come alive. White and director Arteta have collaborated before, on Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl; this thoughtful and provocative film earns another place of honor on their résumé.