As you know, we at TBB love FILM, and when we can, we make full use of our press passes to see some of the more mainstream movies on offer at film festivals. Another such film at Sundance London was Beatriz At Dinner, a complete dose of the claustrophobic reality of a woman’s descent into despair and tragedy.
As with all the best dramas, it also has a smattering of dark fantasy added in. Beatriz (an astonishing Salma Hayek – 30 Rock, 2009-13, Ugly Betty, 2006-07, From Dusk Til Dawn, 1996) is a nurse who specialises in the complementary arts of healing and massage. Since childhood, she has felt a connection to living things, particularly their pain. She meets Cathy (the fab Connie Britton – Nashville, 2012-17, Friday Night Lights, 2006-11) a rich Newport housewife, through her daughter, whose illness at 15, brings the family to the centre where Beatriz is based. The association continues after the kid goes off to college, with Beatriz now acting as regular masseuse to Cathy and her husband Grant (David Warshofsky – Scandal, 2017). Already weighed down with personal issues with her neighbour, she arrives to give Cathy a pre-dinner party massage, only to then find her car won’t start. Cathy invites her to join them for dinner, arranged to celebrate Grant’s company’s most recent triumph. After all, Cathy really does listen to Beatriz’s worries and considers her a family friend…
The bright young thing from Grant’s office, Alex (Jay Duplass – Transparent, 2014-17, The Mindy Project, 2012-17) and his wife Shannon (the ever-excellent Chloe Sevigny – American Horror Story, 2012-16, The Mindy Project, 2013) arrive first and are not too aloof, given Beatriz’s makeup-free face, jeans and T-shirt. Then, Grant’s boss, Doug Strutt – a Trump-like real estate mogul (a fantastic John Lithgow – The Crown, 2015, 3rd Rock From The Sun, 1999-2001) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker – Doctor Strange, 2016, Transparent, 2014-17) arrive, and it’s not long before Beatriz is being mistaken for the help.
Dinner goes off pretty much as you would expect, but writer Mike White chooses interesting details which comment on big business, white collar crime and the little people – infinitely resonating for most of us with a soul. He also subtly presents the age-old assumption of the rich arrogantly feeling that they ‘really know’ the poorer people in their employ and enjoy a special connection with them. Award-winning Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta, along with cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, frames the slow-burning action beautifully, and build the suspense without giving too much of what’s to come, away.
As is standard for high end independent film, the music (this time by Mark Mothersbaugh) transports the viewer to the sympathetic space that understands every move Beatriz makes, but leaves you enough objectivity to heed the waste. That said, the last frame didn’t quite work for me, but I could appreciate the creative choice.
Again, the performances are note-perfect. Hayek, at times in total harmony, at others deeply troubled, fully establishes herself as more than just a beautiful woman – her features, often in close-up, will simply break your heart. Lithgow does a great job of portraying the pursuit of more money and power as an addiction.
Roadside Attractions and FilmNation Entertainment acquired North American, Australian and New Zealand distribution rights to Beatriz At Dinner after it premiered at January’s Sundance Film Festival.
Beatriz at Dinner is US cinemas now, the UK release date has yet to be confirmed.