Beatriz at Dinner


Wine, women and song.

(2017) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, John Early, Sean O’Bryan, David Warshofsky, Enrique Castillo, Natalia Abelleyra, Soledad St. Hilaire, Amelia Borella, Debbie Kindred, Pamela Drake Wilson. Directed by Miguel Arteta

 

In 2017 the distance between the haves and the have-nots has grown wider and the moral gulf between the two has widened similarly. In many ways, it’s hard to reconcile the two; they might as well be two completely different species.

Beatriz (Hayek) is definitely one of the have-nots. She lives in a ramshackle house in Altadena, a primarily Hispanic suburb in Los Angeles along with her menagerie of dogs, cats and goats. She’s a little troubled; her beloved goat was recently killed by an angry neighbor, a goat she’d brought up to America del Norte from her small village in Mexico.

She works at an alternative cancer treatment center, supplementing her income by doing massage therapy. One of her clients is Cathy (Britton), a wealthy housewife in Laguna. Beatriz was instrumental in her daughter surviving cancer and Cathy sings the immigrant’s praises to all and sundry. When Beatriz’ car won’t start and nobody can come get her until the next day, Cathy impulsively invites her to stay overnight and attend a small dinner party her husband Evan (Early) is throwing to celebrate the successful conclusion of a business deal.

Attending is Alex (Duplass), the lawyer who helped arrange it and his wife Shannon (Sevigny) and the guest of honor, billionaire investor Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and his wife Jenna (Landecker). Strutt is one of those one percenters who gives the upper crust a bad name. He’s boorish, arrogant and a bit of a blowhard and maybe a symbol for everything that’s wrong with Trump’s America.

Beatriz recognizes Strutt but is assured that it is because he is famous; she thinks he may have been responsible for a development that decimated her home village and destroyed the way of life there that she loved, forcing her family to separate and flee. She’s not sure so she holds her suspicions to herself.

Although she is constantly mistaken for a servant, Beatriz nevertheless acts with grace and courtesy even when Doug is saying spiteful snarky things to her. She holds her temper even though at times he seems to be goading her perhaps unwittingly, pissing on every precept close to her heart. The only time the two warm up to each other is when she gives him a neck rub and sings a song for the party. But the longer the dinner party goes on, the harder it is for Beatriz to hold her tongue; eventually it becomes obvious that when the confrontation comes it is going to be spectacular.

There are certain allegorical aspects to the movie, particularly with class warfare which seems to be a favored theme in 2017. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White are careful not to turn the characters into caricatures, with each of the party attendees given depth and much room to work with. The result is an array of impressive performances but none more so than Hayek.

She has always been an underrated actress, although those who saw her in Frida know what she’s capable of and she delivers a performance here that is at least on par with that one. Deliberately going unglamorous, wearing no make-up and putting her hair in a pony tail while dressed in the somewhat frumpy uniform she wears for the cancer center, Hayek looks mousy here although even this unflattering look fails to disguise the fact that she’s one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She puts vanity aside in favor of creating a complete character and filling that empty shell with personality and life. Beatriz may be quiet and a bit on the new age-y side but she has a heart of gold.

The same can’t be said for anyone else at the party, even Cathy who proves herself to be just as material-oriented as the others there. All are busy licking Doug’s boots and heaping praise upon him as he jovially trots out potential titles for his autobiography, each one more pretentious and bombastic than the last. I’m not sure if Strutt is meant to be a stand-in for Trump but the similarities are there; the narcissism, the obsession with winning and of course the fact that he is, like Trump, a property developer. You can draw your own conclusions but the comparison isn’t a wrong one.

Lithgow who has been an amazing character actor for decades excels here. He’s made a career of playing some of the best and most despicable villains in movie history. He makes a perfect foil for Beatriz and Hayek and the two complement each other well as polar opposites. They are definitely the yin and yang of the movie and when you have two powerful performances in that position, you can’t help but have a terrific movie.

That is, until the final five minutes when an ending is delivered that stops the movie dead in its tracks. I won’t reveal specifics, only that Beatriz – a character who cherishes life – acts completely out of character not just once but twice. All the hard work that Hayek has given is sabotaged because her character is revealed to be either completely false to what we have seen, or the filmmakers decided to pull a fast one on their audience. Either way, it is disrespectful to the viewer and I sorely wish they had come up with a different way to end the film.

It’s a shame too, because this could have been one of the highlight films of the summer. As it is it’s a hidden gem that will likely pass unnoticed to the vast majority of the movie-going public who tend to get their prompts from heavy marketing campaigns and big summer blockbusters. If you’re looking for something that’s flying under the radar a bit, this is certainly one to consider. It’s just a shame that the ending makes me hesitate to recommend it wholeheartedly but I can at least count it worthy because of the performances and concepts up to that point.

REASONS TO GO: Hayek gives a remarkable performance and is supported superbly by Lithgow.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is horrible enough to nearly ruin a good movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some instances of profanity, a brief scene of drug use and a scene of unexpected and shocking violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third collaboration between Arteta and screenwriter Mike White.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Dinner
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story

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New Releases for the Week of June 23, 2017


Transformers The Last KnightTRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabella Moner, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan. Directed by Michael Bay

The world is in chaos and Optimus Prime has gone walkabout, headed back to Cybertron to demand answers of his maker – the mad goddess Quintessa. Left holding the bag is Cade Yeager, doing his best to hide and protect the remaining Autobots from a vicious government agency. Unbeknownst to the humans Optimus has succeeded in reaching his homeworld and now it is on its way to Earth – to rob it of life itself so that it may live once again. Only an eccentric English nobleman with knowledge of the Transformers legacy on Earth can save the human race from complete annihilation.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)

Band Aid

(IFC) Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker. The marriage of Ben and Anna is on its last legs; the couple can’t seem to stop fighting. Facing the inevitable, the two make a last-ditch effort to save their relationship – they start a band and turn their fights into songs. To their surprise, their pain connects with audiences and their unorthodox solution might just work – but can they maintain the momentum if they stop fighting?

See the trailer, a clip and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Beatriz at Dinner

(Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, Chloë Sevigny, John Lithgow, Connie Britton. Beatriz is a healer. Forced to leave her small, idyllic Mexican village by a greedy developer who separated her from her family, she came to the United States hoping to put her skills to good use and thus far she has. However, when her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client, she is invited to stay for a small dinner party celebrating the conclusion of a big development deal. One percent, meet the Dreamers.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and a scene of violence)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Can We Still Be Friends?
DJ Duvvada Jagannadham
The Survivalist
Tubelight
 

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Alien Arrival
The Bad Batch
El Techo
Glory (2017)
The Hero
It’s For Your Own Good
Moka
One Week and a Day
Past Life
The Student

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Wakefield

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

None

Pick of the Litter – June 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Wonder Woman

(Warner Brothers) Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis. After a memorable appearance in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman returns for something of an origin story. For centuries, the women of Themyscira – the Amazons – have lived hidden away from the world, sworn to protect it but remaining unaffected by it. That is, until a plane crashes and the survivor tells them of a war to end all wars. Diana knows she must fight on the side of right, but when she gets to the outside world she finds a world that may not be worth saving. Oscar nominee Patty Jenkins is in the director’s chair. June 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Past Life

(Goldwyn/Orion) Joy Rieger, Nelly Tagar, Doron Tavory, Evgenia Dodina. In the late 1970s, two Israeli daughters become embroiled in a mystery that has surrounded their family for decades. One, a brilliant but introverted classical musician, the other an outgoing and exuberant scandal sheet journalist, discover that the stories they heard about their family during the Second World War may involve murder. This is based on a true story. June 2 (expanding further on June 16)

 

Letters from Baghdad

(Vitagraph) Tilda Swinton (voice), Paul McGann (voice), Pip Torrens (voice), Eric Loscheider. This is a documentary that covers the live of Gertrude Bell whose story got a feature film from Werner Herzog earlier this year called Queen of the Desert. In this film, we hear Bell’s story in her own words taken from her correspondence and journal entries. Through it, we get to see how the rise of Colonialism helped make a mess of the Middle East that has only been made worse over the years, and also displays a strong, capable woman who was far ahead of her time. June 2

 Beatriz at Dinner

(Roadside Attractions/FilmNation) Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Chloë Sevigny, Connie Britton. A holistic healer is getting ready to leave the home of a wealthy client when she discovers her car has broken down. Her client invites her to stay for a dinner party which will be attended by other wealthy people. The healer will have her hands full however with a house full of people who have no clue about real people and the lives they lead. June 9

My Cousin Rachel

(Fox Searchlight) Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen. A man in Regency England plots revenge against the woman he believes murdered his guardian. When she comes to visit his home, he determines to confront her but things get complicated when he begins falling in love with her. But is she the woman who oversaw the death of his guardian, or the woman he is losing his heart to? This is based on a Daphne du Maurier novel. June 9

Moka

(Film Movement) Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, David Clavel, Diane Rouxel. A young boy is killed by a hit and run driver. The police have no idea who was behind the wheel. The grieving mother, unwilling to accept this, conducts her own investigation and finds a couple whom she is convinced was responsible for the tragedy. But were they or is this just the act of a desperate woman born out of her grief? And furthermore, does she know what she’s getting herself into? June 14

Maudie

(Sony Classics) Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Zachary Bennett. In a small Nova Scotia town, an arthritic woman goes to work as a housekeeper for a prickly farmer. As she works for him, she hones her skills as an artist, painting round his house. Soon she becomes not only a respected member of the community – something she’s never experienced – but a well-known artist around the world. June 16

Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story

(Paladin) John Paul DeJoria, Danny Trejo, Dan Aykroyd, Eloise DeJoria. DeJoria grew up in poverty, fostered to a family in East Los Angeles. Homeless at a young age, he fell in with biker gangs and eventually made his way into sales. He helped grow the brand of Paul Mitchell and eventually made Patron the biggest selling tequila brand in the world. Now incredibly wealthy, he has turned his attention and vast fortune into giving back to the country that helped make him a rags-to-riches story.  June 23

The B-side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

(Neon) Elsa Dorfman, Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg. Errol Morris is considered to be one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of our time. His latest is a delightful look at a quirky portrait photographer who might just change the way you look at the way you live your life. June 30