We live in an age in which real life routinely trumps (or should I say Trumps) comedy.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is a well-written and well-acted social satire pitting a Trumpian billionaire against a socially conscious, spiritually enlightened Mexican immigrant.
Gee, can you pick out the current-day parallels? Can you guess who’s the villain and who’s the hero?
If your default cable news channel is MSNBC, odds are you’re going to love this movie. If you wake up with “Fox and Friends” and wind down your night with Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson — not so much.
Directed by Miguel Arteta from a sharp and often funny screenplay by the immensely talented Mike White (who teamed with Arteta on “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl”), “Beatriz at Dinner” is entertaining enough as farce — but over the course of a feature-length film, the characters actually become more one-dimensional and less believable.
Salma Hayek plays the title character, a holistic massage therapist/counselor/New Age philosopher who mourns the sudden death of a pet goat with as much heartache as she’d feel for the loss of a loved one.
Beatriz knows all living creatures are connected. Beatriz believes in reincarnation. Beatriz works at an alternative clinic with terminally and seriously ill cancer patients, using all of her powers of intuition and wisdom and massage to lift their spirits and ease their pain.
Connie Britton’s Kathy, who lives on a sprawling beachfront estate with her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), adores Beatriz. Loves Beatriz. Considers Beatriz a friend.
Not because Beatriz gives Kathy the best massages ever — although she does — but because Beatriz was there every step of the way when Kathy and Grant’s teenage daughter battled cancer. (Via some casually condescending lines from Kathy and glimpses of photos, it’s clear the daughter, now fully recovered and at college, is embracing an identity not in keeping with her parents’ old school ‘values.’)
One evening, Beatriz pays a house call to Kathy’s estate to give her a massage, parking her beat-up VW in the circular driveway. When the car won’t start and Beatriz’s ride falls through, Kathy arranges for an Uber for Beatriz and a towing service for the VW, and Beatriz goes home, and that’s that.
KIDDING. That would be the logical solution, but that wouldn’t give us a movie, would it?
Kathy’s condescending, liberal-guilt, “you’re family” attitude about Beatriz leads her to invite Beatriz to stay for dinner. Not just any dinner, but an intimate, crucially important business gathering, with just four other guests: the powerful, famous and ruthless land baron Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and his third wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker), and the soulless young attorney Alex (Jay Duplass) and his socially climbing wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny).
As the group gathers for cocktails and talks about an impending real estate deal sure to make millions upon millions for everyone, Beatriz is mistaken for the help, ignored by the gossipy housewives and objectified by the men.
Once they’re finally seated for dinner, Lithgow’s Strutt insults immigrants, laughs off environmental objections to his projects and proudly displays photos of the big game he’s killed on safari in Africa.
Of course Beatriz is horrified by this monster and she takes him to task — but with Beatriz getting increasingly drunk (which leads to a drop in the effectiveness of her arguments), and Strutt so cartoonishly over the top (even for a Trump doppelganger), their confrontations near the end of the film aren’t as juicy and as satisfying and as interesting as we’d like.
And the last 10 minutes are even more problematic, for two reasons I won’t divulge so as not to give away anything.
Suffice to say the menu for “Beatriz at Dinner” is more appetizer than main course.
Roadside Attractions presents a film directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White. Rated R (for language and a scene of violence). Running time: 83 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.