By Leslie C. Halpern
Psychiatrist Carl G. Jung once said: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact between two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” The new comedy/drama (actually far more drama than comedy) Beatriz at Dinner is all about the reaction of two personalities, and the transformations that take place are probably not what Jung had in mind.
Oh, if life’s choices were as black and white as depicted in Beatriz at Dinner. The beautiful Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a middle-aged holistic healer, a divorced Mexican immigrant living just above poverty level in Los Angeles. She lives in her small house with her dog and goat; her other goat was recently strangled to death by a neighbor. A sensitive empath, Beatriz has visions of the suffering of others, and uses her massaging hands, knowledge of alternative medicine, and intuitive sensibilities to heal anyone in need.
A Billionaire Real Estate Developer
One day after performing massage therapy on an extremely wealthy client in her Newport Beach mansion, Beatriz cannot leave because her rattletrap car refuses to start. The client (Connie Britton) invites her to stay for dinner, even though it’s a special event to celebrate a lucrative business deal arranged by billionaire real estate developer, Douglas Strutt (John Lithgow). Now on his third young glamorous wife, Strutt (obviously a parallel to our current Commander-In-Chief) values all the money, power, possessions, and social connections that Beatriz reviles.
Beatriz’s naturally calm demeanor and tolerance of other people deteriorates into barely concealed hatred as she learns of Strutt’s personal (big game hunting) and professional (hotels displacing animal habitats) exploits during dinner. For his part, Strutt treats her like hired help rather than an invited guest and challenges her on her immigration status. Although at first he judges her as too insignificant to matter, eventually her increasing verbal assaults provoke him, and thoroughly embarrass the hosts. Beatriz gets sent to her room with a bottle of wine to cool off, but the dinner party has already been ruined by the ongoing confrontation.
Transformations Only Partly Revealed
The beautiful scenery and carefully chosen cast (which also includes Amy Landecker as Mrs. Strutt, David Warshofsky as the husband of Beatriz’s client, and Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny as a young couple also invited to the dinner party) make a visually engaging movie. Beatriz’s soft simplicity contrasts with the glittering women in their towering high heels. Her foreign status and heavy accent further set her apart from the others. Beatriz is obviously chosen as the long-suffering heroic figure in this screenplay by Mike White, but her heroism and Strutt’s villainy may not be so well-defined outside of a movie screenplay.
While Beatriz’s transformation (revealed internally and externally) is shown with ever-increasing clarity throughout the film, Strutt’s mixture of reactions – condescension, bemusement, and irritation – shield what’s really going on inside him. As the character is written in this one-dimensional script, Strutt is unlikely to undergo the kind of significant transformation that Beatriz had hoped for, and Jung had described.
Beatriz at Dinner
- A holistic healer and a real estate tycoon have an uncomfortable confrontation at a posh dinner party.
- Stars: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny, David Warshofsky, John Early
- Director: Miguel Arteta
- Screenwriter: Mike White
- Genre: Drama/Comedy
- Run Time: 83 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for language and a scene of violence)