What is it about dinner at the movies? My Dinner With Andre, Big Night, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie… the great ones show us something deeper about ourselves and the world we live in.
Now we have Beatriz at Dinner, and while I don’t exactly mean to mention it in the same breath as those others, because it doesn’t rise nearly to their level, it does at least try to say something about our world and our place in it.
Salma Hayek is exceptional as Beatriz, a healer of sorts who works at a new-age cancer center in California. After giving a massage to a client and having her car break down, Beatriz finds herself staying for dinner at the client’s house—a dinner put together to celebrate a business deal involving the client’s husband. At the dinner is John Lithgow, a high-powered land developer whose morals are hazy and who seems to delight in showing his dominance over everyone else.
Except that Beatriz is having none of it. In her soft way, she pokes and prods Lithgow as she tries to figure him out, tries to understand how a man could seem to have such disregard for people and for animals. She starts by asking questions, moves on to interrupting, and eventually her ways become not so soft at all, as she explodes at his callousness.
I had a strange experience watching Beatriz at Dinner. While I felt 100 percent on Beatriz’s side, I still periodically felt uncomfortable with the way she interrupted the dinner conversation to confront Lithgow. There’s no good reason for my discomfort: Lithgow’s character is clearly reprehensible, and the other dinner guests do little more than make excuses for his behavior. But still, I felt uncomfortable. This may say something about my own privilege, which I guess I’ll have to reckon with, but I think it also shows how well the movie executes Beatriz’s tactics—her moves are effective at getting under the skin of her dinner companions, which is maybe more of her goal than it first appears.
I do wish the ending of Beatriz at Dinner were less opaque, as it’ll put off a large portion of the audience. But look past that and you’ll find an effective study of character and what’s really important in our lives and in our world.