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|Beatriz at Dinner
dir Miguel Arteta
scr Mike White
prd Aaron L Gilbert, David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
with Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky, John Early, Natalia Abelleyra, Soledad St Hilaire, Amelia Borella, Enrique Castillo
release US 9.Jun.17, UK Jun.17 sffl
Let's drink to that: Hayek, Duplass and Britton
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A third teaming of director-writer duo Miguel Arteta and Mike White (see Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl), this pitch-black comedy cuts a razor-sharp line through affluent American society. It's a fiendishly smart film that often feels simultaneously funny and terrifying, simply because it resonates so strongly. And it's anchored by Salma Hayek's best ever performance.
Beatriz (Hayek) is a holistic masseuse in a Los Angeles cancer centre where she helps patients face their illness. She also has private clients like Kathy (Britton), visiting her palatial Newport home for treatments. One day when Beatriz's car breaks down, Kathy invites her to stay for dinner with her husband Grant (Warshofsky) and some associates: billionaire developer Doug (Lithgow) and his trophy wife (Landecker), and lawyer Alex (Duplass) and his wife (Sevigny). It's no surprise that these money-hungry businessmen trigger Beatriz's sensitivities.
It say a lot about White's prescient screenplay that such intimate writing has fierce topicality long after the film was made. Actually, the exploration of political greed is a sideline; the main thrust is Beatriz's yearning for innocence, wishing herself back to a simpler time before she knew about systemic corruption. This is a woman who has worked all her life to heal people, so she understandably struggles to face people who callously cause pain and destruction.
Hayek shines as Beatriz, a deep-thinking woman who radiates compassion. There isn't a hint of glamour about her, and yet she's the most compelling person in this room full of wealthy people who the world defines as successful. Her moral outrage is visceral, and watching her try to hold her tongue (she can't) or control her actions (can she?) is gripping. The six others around the table are equally magnetic, with another stand-out role for Lithgow as a smiling devil.
Much of this movie feels like a play, with its single setting, contained cast and dialog that's layered with provocative meaning. White and Arteta cleverly allow the ideas to float in the air, refusing to over-explain the machinations of the plot. They give just enough background to the characters to make what they do and say meaningful, letting the actors fill in the spaces with powerful emotional touches. It's also a vitally important film that reminds us just what humanity has lost in its pursuit of progress. An urgent message indeed, even if this movie is perhaps preaching to the choir.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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