Beatriz at Dinner fails to deliver on a compelling premise that pits Left against Right at a Trump-era dinner table.
The time is ripe for a flick built around Trump-era socio-political polarisation, and going by the trailer it seemed Beatriz at Dinner could be the goods. The premise is compelling: the Left is set against the Right at a dinner party when Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a Mexican massage therapist specialising in treating cancer patients, attends a posh dinner party comprising wealthy couples celebrating a legal victory that will yield them big financial rewards.
The touchy-feely Beatriz is an animal lover and environmentalist – a neo-hippy, basically – who happens to have her guitar with her (she promises to sing for the guests, who are less than enthused at the prospect). She’s a fish out of water, an attendee at the dinner party by accident, invited to stay by her client, the hostess, when her car won’t start after a home-visit massage.
As the evening progresses, she locks horns with the unofficial guest of honour, a Trump-like mega-rich real estate developer played by the appropriately physically imposing John Lithgow. This bloke’s not only a ruthless capitalist pig prepared to trample over anyone who gets in the way of a profit – he’s an arsehole of the first order. During the night he produces pictures of himself standing astride a rhino he has shot during a hunting stint in Africa. A tipsy Beatriz looks on aghast as the other guests pander to his ego, admiring his big game hunting triumph, then lets fly.
The stage is set, you think, for a ding dong drawing room battle to the death via heated dialogue, with a range of other charged Trump-era topics waiting in the wings (eg: environmentalism, global warming, Mexican border policy and treatment of illegal Hispanic migrants). Alas, it’s not to be. The embarrassed hostess ushers Beatriz off to a spare bedroom and bids her an early good night.
After a simultaneously calming and fortifying joint and some more booze, Beatriz digs up some dirt on Mr Real Estate Developer on the internet and returns to the fray, but again, the anticipated ideological battle does not eventuate. Instead, the narrative takes an implausible turn, misfiring with a silly revenge fantasy and culminating in an utterly ludicrous ending that makes no sense and in dramatic terms is nothing short of catastrophic. What the hell was the writer thinking?
Indeed, a lot more thought needed to be invested in the screenplay generally. The premise does not deliver on its promise – the Left vs Right showdown is a fizzer. The characters are black and white. Beatriz is too good to be true, too obviously painted as the protagonist. Her nemesis, Mr Real Estate Developer, is a capitalist caricature. The other male guests are right wing stereotypes, their wives vacuous rich twits. Beatriz at Dinner is an opportunity wasted.
Beatriz at Dinner features: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Runtime: 82 min
Australian release date: Beatriz at Dinner screening at Luna Leederville & Luna-on-SX in Perth & Freo respectively from 28 Sep 2017
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