Should’ve ordered take out
You should have seen it coming. It hasn’t come in a while. But now it’s too late. What time is it? It’s time for Indie Art House Corner *cue whimsical tune with children’s cheer track;* it’s where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense. Back from the dead to trot out a film that several critics have begun to deem as one of the year’s best. However, I’ve heard that before. So how does Beatriz at Dinner fare? Well the word I want you to remember dear viewer is: “uggggggggh.”
So Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a massage therapist very well versed in alternative medicine. After taking care of her goats at home and finishes up her day job, she finishes her last gig of the day of giving her client, Kathy (Connie Britton), a massage at her own hime. After she’s done, Beatriz finds her car is unable to start, so Kathy decides to invite masseuse to a business dinner she was hosting with her husband (David Warshofsky) that very night while the tow-truck comes. At first, Beatriz makes awkward small talk with the first guests (Chloe Sevigny and Jay Duplass), but things get more awkward when Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) arrives. Beatriz can’t put her finger on it, but she knows Strutt from somewhere, and as the night wears on she learns more of his aggressive, borderline criminal activity that puts a damper on the night’s festivities.
This film is an absolute, unpleasant squirmfest. Every big moment that occurs in this film is dedicated to making everything as awkward as possible. And when it’s not making you uncomfortable, it’s just boring the ever loving shit out of you with “artistic” cuts of the beachside house where the majority of this film takes place or random asides as Hayek’s Beatriz dreams of a swamp she’s paddling through. None of these add anything to the story, nor do they actually look visually interesting enough for me to take notice. I know why these scenes are here: to visually represent Beatriz’s isolation from the rest of the wealthy dinner guests. But I got the point after the first two aesthetic scenes, everything after that felt like it was there for the sake of making an “artsy” film.
Going back to the cringe of this movie, I’m not sure the film was properly equipped to tackle the themes it sought. You see, the film frames the dinner as a poor immigrant vs the 1% and…that’s about it. No really, that’s the thrust of the drama that concerns this whole damn thing. Only problem is, that nothing of particular relevance or interest is said as Beatriz argues with Strutt about their views on life. Beatriz points the finger at him accusing him of being everything wrong with society; while Strutt considers himself as simply taking advantage of the opportunities presented before him because someone else will definitely do so in his place. This is really the crux of their entire argument and nothing is resolved as a result of which.
The only thing that the film does do, is that it tries to go out of its way to convince you that Beatriz is correct. Tiny problem: we don’t know shit about Beatriz. We take one look at her daily routine in the first ten minutes of the film before we’re taken to the house where the dinner takes place. And all we know about this woman is that she’s a caretaker for cancer patients and she cares for multiple goats at her own home. While the occupation and her personal hobby are very clearly shortcuts to tell you: “She’s a good-hearted person,” there’s nothing much else that we know about her. She imparts during her many awkward conversations that she possesses very few social cues as she always drives the conversation to something she wants to talk about (usually related to her alternative lifestyle) as opposed to going with the flow of the conversation. Honestly, it makes her look far more autistic than an innocent creature the film goes out of its way to portray.
Meanwhile, we’re only treated to very, very brief asides involving Strutt so we don’t know much about him either. He comes across like a cartoon villain rather than a complicated individual, all in service of the film’s anti-rich person agenda. And while there are certainly avenues to directly criticize the evils of capitalism (Snowpiercer does this flawlessly while remaining one of my all-time favorite films), this film goes about its critique in the laziest way imaginable.
The whole dinner set up has been used countless times in both film and in theater productions in order to discuss the anxieties of the time. It’s an easy script idea because you can use fully-fleshed out characters that express what’s bothering them at any given moment, whether it would be in their personal life or something affecting their society. But you do need actual characters for this to actually work, as opposed to archetypes. And this is where the film lost me hard.
The aesthetic flourishes didn’t help matters either. It’s honestly far more distracting, and I suspect were used to pad out the run time to the 83 minute mark in order to attain “feature length” film status. The only thing I can praise the film for is that the actors all clearly showed up to work even if the majority of them were vapid as hell. Hayek tries her best to inject as much personality as she can into Beatriz, but there’s just nothing for her to work with. And Lithgow just failed to impress me in the slightest.
This is an easy skip, but given the fact that the actors truly tried to make some magic happen. I’ll give this a low, low, low, low, pube-hair away from SOME OL’ BULLSHIT, low…