Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner - Miguel Arteta (2017)

"Beatriz at Dinner" is easily the most important film to come out since Jordan Peele's "Get Out" from earlier this year.

It tells the story about one rare evening where a member of the working class is put in a position where she has to socialize with the bourgeoisie.
Beatriz, played with beautiful subtlety by Salma Hayek, is a masseuse who finds herself stranded at a wealthy clients' house. 

The mistress of the house, Cathy, invites her to stay for a dinner party starting very soon and involving some very "important" people. 

It's important throughout the film to remember that at the start, Cathy really is a likable person.

The most crucial of the guests Beatriz will be spending the evening with is Doug Strutt, a pig of a real estate mogul, played masterfully by John Lithgow. The strength of Lithgow's performance lies in his refusal to simply paint this man as a villain. He never lets us forget the wickedness in his heart for a second, nevertheless showing us glimpses of humanity in his eyes. 

He even betrays a slight, peculiar fondness for bizarre but intriguing woman, Beatriz.

The bulk of the film shows Beatriz arguing with these characters, especially Strutt, about all manner of moral issues while handling condescension and racial slurs through the night.

Narcissism is the best word to sum up the nature of these ladies and gentlemen.

One telling sequence involves lighting up "wish lanterns" and letting them go over the canyon. One of them jokes that they'll be put in jail if he set fire to the area. Another says their lawyer friend will just get them off. That's goes right to the center of who these people are. Whether or not a fire is set and people are endangered is really of no consequence. It's only about the possible penalties for them.

Courage is really Beatriz' most prominent character quality. You can tell she would be more comfortable letting some of these heinous comments and attitudes slide, but she won't. She is meek by nature, but willing to be bold when she needs to be.

I kept waiting for that moment when these characters would realize how appalling they were behaving and that Beatriz was right more often than not through the evening.

If the ending feels unsatisfying, it's meant to be. The film refuses to tie everything with a trite, happy ending, instead of leaving us with a solid, bleak picture of the shameful way things really are right now in this country.

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