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‘BEATRIZ AT DINNER’ OFFERS FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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