A holistic medicine practitioner attends a wealthy client’s dinner party after her car breaks down.
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Stars: Salma Hayek, Chloë Sevigny, John Lithgow
Closed captioning and descriptive narration available.
Hayek plays a Mexican-American massage therapist and holistic medical worker whose car breaks down while she’s at the home of her wealthy client Cathy (Connie Britton). With some trepidation, Cathy and her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) invite Beatriz to join the dinner party they’re hosting for his billionaire developer boss, a man with the wonderfully Trumpian name of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). As the evening proceeds, Beatriz is privy to Doug and the others’ smug conversations about bypassing regulations, gaming the system, displacing people and animals and entire villages; this triggers her own memories of her town in Mexico being wiped out by a rapacious hotel developer. Arteta deftly portrays the cocoon of wealth and the shamelessness of those who seek it at all costs: Doug can say whatever he wants, because he’s surrounded by sycophants and others who feed on his money and power. Beatriz, we sense, has been let in on a gathering that people like her are not supposed to see.
That’s a pretty simple set-up, but Arteta and screenwriter Mike White find nuance in the conflict. Beatriz takes her job as a healer seriously, and she believes that she can connect with the pain and the memories of others. As the evening wears on and she has more wine, the initially understated Beatriz speaks frankly, even naively — as if she believes she might enter into actual dialogue might be possible with people who have such privilege and wealth.
This might be the best performance Salma Hayek has ever given, her quiet, observant reserve eventually giving way to bewilderment and resolve. And her inner turmoil is a powerfully relevant one: How does a person committed to healing — to being principled, empathetic, and good — handle first contact with the devils who think nothing of destroying our world? Beatriz at Dinner never entirely settles on a satisfying answer to this question. But the film does send us out of the theater asking it of ourselves, and maybe that is the answer.
– BILGE EBIRI, The Village Voice