A more appropriate title for Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow as opposite examples of humankind, might be “Beatriz Goes Berserk.” Hayek is a self-sacrificing healer who has spent her lifetime trying to help patients suffering from terminal cancer.
A gentle, soft-spoken, spiritual Mexican immigrant, Beatriz has neglected herself while trying to heal as many people as she can at an L.A. cancer clinic. She lives alone with her beloved dogs and goats, but misses the days when she and her family lived happily together in Mexico. The people of her village were forced to leave when a huge American-owned resort was built on their land, leveling the trees of the mango forest and polluting the river.
When her car breaks down while making a house call, giving a massage to Cathy (Connie Britton) at her palatial Newport Beach estate, her client insists that she stay for dinner. After all, it was Beatriz who helped Cathy’s daughter, Tara, recover from cancer.
The dinner party is an intimate celebration of an important business deal Cathy’s husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), just closed with Lithgow’s international firm. Also invited are Lithgow’s wife (Amy Landecker), attorney (Jay Duplass), and his wife (Chloe Sevigny).
Beatriz, still dressed in her work clothes including jeans and sneakers, is obviously a fifth wheel at this party. But for the first few hours she manages to be obligingly quiet and unobtrusive, although drinking large amounts of white wine.
During dinner, while the other guests are dining on their beef and halibut, vegetarian Beatriz can’t hide her feelings for the insufferably rude guest of honor any longer. The more he brags about his business deals, moving endangered species off to make way for his projects, the more difficult it is for Beatriz to control her rage. When he shows photos of himself killing a rhino on African safari, Beatriz unleashes a diatribe that surprises everyone—herself included.
Everyone in this ensemble is perfectly cast, and the dialogue—while uncomfortable at times—is extremely realistic. You definitely feel this is how these people would really talk and react. But the film belongs to Hayek, whose expressive eyes and face reveal a myriad of conflicting emotions. Lithgow is also perfect as Doug Strull, the type of self-satisfied, belligerent tycoon we all love to hate.
The tension mounts as the film comes to an unexpected, perplexing, and (at least for this viewer) unsatisfying end. “Beatriz at Dinner” is directed by Miguel Arteta, written by Mike White, and opens June 9 in North Texas. The Roadside Attractions film is rated R for language and a scene of violence, and runs only 83 minutes.