This one’s worth checking out.

Well-made but not completely subtle.

When a film is so overt about its political point that one of its characters may as well be a straight-up parody, I tend to become skeptical. It is a film about a clash of cultures and ethnic backgrounds that mirror the issues of today, and I think it may have worked fine if it was mostly unchanged except that John Lithgow‘s character wasn’t quite so blatantly evil or was named Douglas Strutt. Think about that one for as long as you need, dear reader.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz in ‘Beatriz at Dinner’.

But that’s what’s important here; this isn’t a movie like The Life Zone, which was just a pro-lifer’s megaphone with a so-called “horror movie” written around it (to call it clumsy would be outright kind). Instead, this is a film of expert acting, writing, and direction; a “cringe comedy” in the good sense of the word. Whether it is sufficiently poignant I will discuss after summarizing the plot.

We meet Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a massage therapist who is invited to dinner at the residence of Cathy and Grant (Connie Britton and David Warhofsky), which leads to her encountering Strutt (Lithgow), a powerful business man whose beliefs and practices don’t exactly resonate with Beatriz. It begins early on when Beatriz, due mainly to her heritage, is instantaneously mistaken for the housemaid. The idea is that Beatriz is smarter and more capable than Strutt believes, but I don’t know what sort of life she’s lead that, at approximately age 50, she’s shocked and appalled at the image of a man having killed an animal with a rifle.

The movie is directed by Miguel Arteta, a Puerto Rican director, but written by one Mike White (make whatever joke you must) and also featuring the likes of Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny in bit roles. When I read these details about the film, I wondered if an even braver filmmaker would have had the entire film take place at the dinner table; a modern-day My Dinner with André with tension based on the disagreement of the characters but ultimately ending on an unlikely understanding.

Of course, there isn’t much of a common ground to be reached when the central debate is essentially whether or not exploitation, prejudice and fascism are bad. Still, I like films with nuance (at least if they aspire to be realistic) and by choosing this subject matter you are almost destined to make a rather black-and-white movie. Strutt is old, wealthy, powerful, and out-of-touch; there isn’t much more too it. Yes, this may be true for the man who inspired him as well, and while real life is often not as black-and-white as we think, sometimes it isn’t that grey or blurry either. But yet again, if that’s what you choose for a feature-length picture about modern life, that’s what you get.

When I think of a character like Douglas Strutt, I think of something satirical like South Park or maybe Get Out. This film, while humorous, seems intent on being a grounded and dramatic eye-opener, and I would suggest that if John Oliver’s “tee-hee, he used to be named Drumpf” meme didn’t open people’s eyes to the problems with Donald Trump, neither will “Strutt”.

But now I’m harping. Obviously there is much to be praised here, including the performances of Hayek and Lithgow, the convincing writing, the well-timed comedy, and whatever else is used to make long conversation scenes remain intriguing throughout. Beatriz at Dinner is very well-made and it might even comfort some viewers.

The biggest problem may be that we’ll be getting many more films like it the next few years. What seems like a bold and timely statement now is going to sound repetitive, at least according to my suspicions. But we’ll see how it goes. Maybe we’ll get one movie that’s entirely in monochrome, save for a small Mexican girl in a red dress promenading next to the border wall, or maybe one by Tarantino in which a rogue band of AntiFa members take it upon themselves to gun The Orange One down. Somehow, I’m sure, it’ll still be the most offensive thing Melania has ever seen her husband be involved in.

3.5/5 whatever

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