Beatriz at Dinner: Comedy, Tragedy, Portrait?

By Bobbie Kirkhart

We first see Beat­riz (Salma Hayek) going through morn­ing chores, feed­ing her dogs, and light­ing a can­dle for deceased loved ones, includ­ing her dead goat. She’s in a rush to her work in a holis­tic heal­ing firm. Her last patient of the day is a house call for a mas­sage for Kathy, a wealthy woman in a gat­ed community.

After the house call, Beatriz’s car won’t start, so Kathy invites her to stay for the small din­ner par­ty she’s host­ing for her husband’s busi­ness associates.

It’s the stuff of com­e­dy, a movie you’ve all seen before: The wealthy matron invites an employ­ee to an impor­tant din­ner par­ty she’s host­ing for even wealth­i­er asso­ciates. We have rol­lick­ing fun watch­ing the crude man­ners of the out­sider expos­ing the pom­pos­i­ty of the wealthy. At the end, every­body real­izes that the sim­ple ways of the poor employ­ee are supe­ri­or to the smug friv­o­li­ty of the priv­i­leged. Every­body is hap­py. Every­body learns something.

Spoil­er alert: They didn’t go that way.

Beat­riz is aware of the awk­ward­ness of the sit­u­a­tion, but not in the least cowed by it. She greats each guest with a hug, some­what to their surprise.

Her adver­sary is the tycoon Doug Strutt (John Lith­gow). He’s not a sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter, but also not the stereo­typ­i­cal bul­ly. He’s inter­est­ed in Beat­riz, though not as a human being, but in the way one might be curi­ous about an exot­ic animal.

She thinks he might be the tycoon whose failed hotel ruined her vil­lage. Thus ensues the evening’s debate between two peo­ple who have absolute con­fi­dence in them­selves and absolute­ly no respect for each oth­er. She’s angry with him; he’s dis­mis­sive of her.  We watch, wait­ing for some­one to bend, some­one to land a blow.

Both Hayek and Lith­gow give admirable per­for­mances, and the sup­port­ing cast, well, sup­ports, though there is lit­tle to chal­lenge them, sit­ting off-cen­ter with these two giants.

Some list­ings call this movie a com­e­dy, which sur­prised me. Oth­ers call it a dra­ma. I think of it as a tragedy. Per­haps it’s not clear what lit­er­ary term to use because this film is less a play than it is a pic­ture, a stark, vivid flat can­vas depic­tion of polar oppo­sites, an illus­tra­tion of the divi­sion in the U.S. today.

Watch the trail­er of Miguel Arteta’s Beat­riz at Din­ner (2017) here:

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