Eat or be eaten

Beatriz at Dinner

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner is a darkly comic fantasy about an empathetic, nature-loving Latina healer who comes face to face with a racist, vulgar, thoroughly despicable member of the 1 percent. I say “fantasy” not because it couldn’t happen, but because the movie is predicated on the rare thrill of seeing an all-too-human monster being made to answer for his crimes, if only for the duration of one surreal and savagely funny evening.

The director, Miguel Arteta, and the screenwriter, Mike White, who previously joined forces on the movies Chuck & Buck (2000) and The Good Girl (2002) and the short-lived HBO series Enlightened, have a proven knack for making their characters and audiences squirm. They wield their scalpel here with practiced skill, though like some of the other sharp blades on display, it takes its time to emerge.

When we first meet the sweet-souled Beatriz (a never-better Salma Hayek), she’s hanging out in her Los Angeles home with her dogs and goats, then performing massages at a holistic treatment center. She’s a healer and a nurturer, and her deep feeling for the suffering of others is signaled by a twinkly score and some serenely lovely mangrove-forest imagery the film keeps dipping into, as if it were a warm, regenerative bath.

Later that afternoon, Beatriz drives 60 miles south to meet a regular client, Kathy (Connie Britton), at her gated Newport Beach estate. The massage is soon finished but Beatriz’s car won’t start, and Kathy, eager to show both her hospitality and her understanding, invites Beatriz to stay for the dinner that she and her husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), are hosting for some very important business associates.

The first to arrive are a young corporate go-getter (Jay Duplass, terrifically asinine) and his wife (Chloe Sevigny, all willowy hauteur), but the star of the evening is Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a billionaire real-estate mogul who shows up with his third wife (Amy Landecker) and a lot of smug blather about his latest deal. At first no one takes much notice of the plainly dressed newcomer in their midst, until Doug, spying Beatriz out on the patio, asks her to refresh his drink.

From there the evening gets steadily worse (the movie, meanwhile, keeps getting better), as White and Arteta raise the emotional temperature by deliciously incremental degrees. There’s a bit of misdirection going on here, as if we were being invited to share the other guests’ condescension toward Beatriz, to observe her gentle Earth Mother demeanor and assume that she must be submissive and unsophisticated to boot.

But any confusion soon passes, and the film’s sympathies become entirely clear. It isn’t intelligence that Beatriz lacks; it’s guile. What gives the movie its unsettling power is its ear for the rhythms and evasions of small talk—a polite, patrician language for which Beatriz has neither the aptitude nor the patience. Gently but with increasing purpose, she seizes hold of the dinner conversation and steers it in an unsettling new direction.

Doug, his arrogance and vulgarity barely hidden beneath an air of gentlemanly good humor, is clearly used to holding court. He doesn’t expect Beatriz to engage or push back the way she does—politely at first, then with increasing vigor, her inhibitions fading with every glass of wine. He asks her about her immigration status; she presses him about his business dealings, specifically whether he happens to own the luxury hotel that bankrupted the poor Mexican village she once called home.

Even before Doug brings up his latest African hunting expedition, it wouldn’t take a particularly attentive viewer to deduce that Beatriz at Dinner is a barbed allegory for the Trump era. But this queasily funny and suspenseful movie is more than a smirking exercise in ideological deck stacking, and to praise it for its political relevance would be to understate its subtlety and specificity. Lithgow gives a marvelous performance, and his villainy is too nuanced, too filigreed, for Doug to be mistaken for a mere Trump stand-in (he’s too eloquent, for starters).

But Beatriz at Dinner finally rests on Hayek’s shoulders, and while the actress may be Hollywood royalty, her transformation goes well beyond Beatriz’s flat bangs and ponytail. There’s a wonderful mellowness to her performance—sometimes her eyes pool with warmth, while other times they grow as wide as saucers—but after awhile you realize Beatriz isn’t drifting or spacing out. She’s leaning in and focusing hard, trying to figure out why her destiny and Doug’s have become so improbably entwined.

Why are we here? What difference can we really make, and what good can we accomplish? These are questions Beatriz takes incredibly seriously. But they should also resonate with anyone who has ever considered the Doug Strutts of the world and felt a deep, inconsolable despair.

Beatriz at Dinner has an eerie undertow of menace and melancholy that seems destined to end in violence, an expectation that the movie both honors and upends. I’ll say no more, except that my earlier description of the film now seems both accurate and curiously inadequate. What initially looks like a darkly comic fantasy has exposed itself, by the end, as something awfully close to tragic realism.

Smoking Crow
More Film...
Phantom Thread
A well-spun tale

The delectable peculiarities of Phantom Thread come from all over, from countless inspirations. Some are cinematic: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Gothic standard Rebecca, for one, and David Lean’s little-known and fascinating 1949 romantic triangle The Passionate Friends, for another.


more »
The Post
The pen vs. the sword

As it is with The Post, so it is with many Steven Spielberg movies. We sit there, a little interested, a little bit detached, thinking, well, this is OK, nothing special, but perfectly fine. And then—who knows how he does it?—the camera moves in on a face, the soundtrack swells, and…

more »
Darkest Hour
Never surrender

Winston Churchill lived a life that was long and “not…entirely uneventful,” as he once put it, and so it’s only fitting that he should be the subject of movies. Hence, across the veil of years, we have seen tall Churchills, obese Churchills, sloppy Churchills, gross Churchills, and…

more »
Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Garage Sale and Health Fair

12:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Flick

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek, Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Mason Bee Management

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Smoking Crow Opening

9:00am|Smoking Crow

Plant Society Field Trip

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Nordic Ski Ambassadors

10:00am|SnoPark at Salmon Ridge

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

March on Bellingham

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Of marching and mending


Travel to Cuzco and Machu PIcchu

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Cedar Weaving Workshop

2:00pm|Lynden Library

Teddy Bear Biographies

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Learn to Grow a Vegetable Garden

2:00pm|Sumas Library

Mona Openings

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Mysticism in Art

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Exploring Port

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kindgom Quest

4:00pm|Village Books

Music and Memories

5:00pm|Swinomish Casino & Lodge

Robert Burns Supper

5:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Ensemble Electra

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

The Good Lovelies

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Village Books
Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Nonfiction and Memoir Writing Group

3:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Village Books Roseann
Cuban Salsa Classes

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

see our complete calendar »

Roseann Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1