Jacqueline Gualtieri ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
If Beatriz at Dinner does not make you uncomfortable, you’re missing the point of the film. In this thinly veiled critique of Trump’s America, it’s not just the man eagerly hunting big game and destroying small villages to build his resorts who is the villain. It’s also the “friend” who considers her Mexican masseuse to be family and then cringes every time she talks too much about her home and draws too much attention to herself. It’s the couple who tries to welcome the Mexican woman to the party at first and then quietly mocks her behind her back—and later to her face as they get drunker as the evening progresses. It’s the wife of the big wig who tries to offer comfort by saying, “It’s not a big deal,” and cracking a joke to lessen the tension. Beatriz at Dinner invites us all to look in the mirror. If you’re not cringing constantly at this film, then you’re not looking hard enough.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a holistic medicine practitioner who once worked with a child named Tara. Tara’s family loved her so much that she continued to come help them, although Cathy (Connie Britton) and Grant (David Warshofsky) use her as little more than a personal masseuse. Still, Cathy acts like they are good friends and, when Beatriz’s car breaks down at their mansion, she invites her to stay for their dinner party.
Beatriz is a character that breaks down barriers of the way that Mexican women are portrayed in film. She is not the submissive maid or a vixen flirting her way through the film. She’s a spiritual woman, who talks about her culture, but, despite her calm nature, she does not back down from an argument. She has a temper, but she also has a remarkably long fuse, which gets lit early in the film and the audience watches as she endures questions like, “Where are you really from?” and, “Can you get me another drink, hun?” She sits and smiles even as the other members of the party pretend that the name of her home village in Mexico is just so impossible to pronounce and mock her profession. Only after she feels that the attacks are on something else and not on her does she finally snap.
Salma Hayek displays every emotion that Beatriz feels, in a way that lets the audience feel her pain. She goes from reserved to grateful to angry in the blink of an eye. Hayek shows on Beatriz’s face just how she got there, what triggered each of these emotions, and what built up to the rage.
For the main “villain” of the film, Doug Strutt (Jon Lithgow), it’s hard not to see a comparison to our current president. Both are white men of an advanced age who admit freely to marrying many times and marrying younger and younger each time. Both build resorts and hotels for a living, not that they’ve ever built anything for themselves. Strutt says that he’s never built a hotel but his name is on all of them. Strutt is a big game hunter and it’s hard to forget the images of Trump’s son hunting his way through Africa.
Despite the comparisons, Strutt remains a complex villain and much of that is thanks to Lithgow’s talents. Strutt could have just been an evil tycoon with an iron fist. Instead, he listens as Beatriz condemns him for everything he’s done. He tries to keep a smug look on his face, but it wavers. Perhaps he regrets more than he lets on. Perhaps he’s not a cruel as he likes to pretend. He has a human side, even if the audience only gets small moments of vulnerability. The argument could be made that Strutt is more human than any of the other guests at the dinner party. It’s clear from the start that he is outwardly prejudiced. The rest of the guests can’t admit that they are prejudiced too.
The concept of prejudice is what makes Cathy an antagonist herself. She watches as Beatriz becomes more and more upset with Doug until the characters come to a head. She then profusely apologizes to Doug for Beatriz’s actions. In doing so, she demonstrates that there was no question that she would side with the man whose life is more like her own. She apologizes in a way that’s similar to a mother apologizing to someone her kid just kicked as if she felt that Beatriz was not capable enough to know what she was doing or how wrong she was. Cathy hides behind friendly smiles and condescending “awws” and thinks that it makes her a hero that she’s okay with her daughter going off to a school with a large gay population. She boasts about how Beatriz is a part of the family and how she’s never asked if she was here legally. In her own eyes, she’s the hero of the story. But she only sees Beatriz how she wants to, as their quiet, submissive masseuse and healer. Beyond that, she knows nothing about her and doesn’t like that her image of her “friend” is being shattered. Beatriz defends her family, culture, and home. Cathy defends the man that made her husband money. The goal of her character seems to be to get the audience to understand, as the movie goes on, that she’s not the friend that she keeps calling herself. In that way, Britton plays her well. Britton introduced Cathy to the audience as a friendly ally and then twisted her into something repulsive and hateful.
There’s no hiding the point that Beatriz at Dinner is trying to make. Not everybody may be a Strutt, but there are more Cathys than many would like to admit. It’s an honest movie and it’s billed as a dark comedy for a reason. There are some funny moments, but mainly there’s a stranger sense of, “Is it okay to laugh at that?” After all, it is meant to be a satire of today’s America. And yet, reading the news, it seems that perhaps everything in reality might as well be satire itself. All jokes aside, Beatriz at Dinner is the movie that needed to come out right now and it is the film that, regardless of what side of the political spectrum people fall on, everyone needs to see.
Overall Grade: A
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