Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

2/4

Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, David Warshofsky

Rated R for Language and a Scene of Violence

With a title as intentionally minimalist and nondescrepit as "Beatriz at Dinner," you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for one of those pretentious European films that critics adore because they espouse their philosophies and are as anti-Michael Bay as you can get.  In this case, it wouldn't be a mistake.  This is one of those self-indulgent bores you were thinking of, only it isn't European and it isn't Dogma 95.

Beatriz (Hayek) is a holistic healer living in ritzy Southern California.  She's having a bad week.  She's got a teenage patient who's going to die despite her best efforts, she's overworked and exhausted, and her alcoholic neighbor strangled her pet goat.  She says all this to one of her clients, Cathy (Britton), a well-to-do socialite who has more money than Beatriz could ever hope to get.  Beatriz helped Cathy's daughter overcome her cancer and brags to her friends that she's "one of the family."  Poor Beatriz's car breaks down after she gives Cathy a massage, and is invited to stay for a work dinner that Cathy's husband Grant (Warshofsky) is having.  There, she meets Cathy's friends, one of whom is a Koch clone named Doug Strutt (Lithgow).  Beatriz thinks she knows Strutt, who may be the man ran everyone out of her childhood town so he could build a resort.  Rest assured, this is going to be a very awkward dinner.

Ostensibly, this is about life at the top as seen from the bottom.  Beatriz is the working class while Cathy, Strupp and the others are the one percenters that Trump fans consider the root of all their ills.  Subtle, this movie is not.  While Mike White's screenplay asks a few pointed questions and exposes the 1% for all their hypocrisy, snobbery and greed, it doesn't do a lot more.  Instead of really attacking the problem of wealth inequality and corporate malfeasance, director Miguel Arteta is more concerned with establishing mood and self-importance.  There are far too many shots of Salma Hayek staring hurtfully at or near the camera.  SOB!

The problem here is that the message gets drowned out by the director's self-importance.  All these close-ups and moody long-shots set the atmosphere, but a little of that goes a long way.  Apparently Arteta thinks this film is a lot more important and informative than it actually is.  Like any Seth Rogen comedy, it has some ideas and thinks that's enough.  For a full movie that is supposedly heavy on ideas (it sure doesn't have much else), it has to offer a hell of a lot more than this.

At least the performances are fine.  Salma Hayek is quite brave doing all of these close-ups looking vulnerable and wounded sans makeup.  But this screenplay is far below her talents.  Ditto for John Lithgow, once again playing a stand-in for Charles or David Koch (he did the same thing opposite Dan Aykroyd in "The Campaign" a few years back).  Connie Britton is in top form of as a woman who is so superficial and self-absorbed that she thinks she knows where Beatriz is coming from.  A key exchange occurs after Beatriz asks Strutt some uncomfortable questions and embarrasses everyone: "It's like I don't know you anymore," Cathy says. "You don't know me," the middle class Beatriz replies.  At least she has the good sense to leave it at that.

"Beatriz at Dinner" will likely find rapturous applause, both by those who agree with its point-of-view and the "evil libtard elites" who pay lip service to people they profess to support but could care less about.  Or a Trump disciple who thinks that every white collar Democrat looks down on the everyman.  Everyone will find their personal bias validated here.  I agree with what it's saying, but it's so one-note and so self-indulgent that I could only shake my head.  Except for the end, which contains two cheats and an open ending that it doesn't earn.  Then I rolled my eyes and laughed at it's self-importance.

Surely not the response that White and Arteta were going for.  But I have my ethics.

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