Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner, which I caught two or three days ago, has a great premise — a middle-aged, deeply spiritual Latina masseuse (Salma Hayek) has an encounter with a rich, Donald Trump-like monster (John Lithgow) at a small dinner party in Newport Beach, and then things turn rancid over values and politics.
Anyone with half a heart would naturally be on the side of the Mexican-born Beatriz if and when push comes to shove. One also assumes that the pure-of-heart healer will make things uncomfortable if not worse for Lithgow’s Doug Strutt, and well she should. Tongue-lash him! Slash his tires! Which is why the nihilistic finale in Mike White‘s script strongly disappoints.
Beatriz drives down to Newport Beach to give a massage to Cathy (Connie Britton), a rich client. But then Beatriz’s car dies, and so Cathy invites her to stay for the party. She first has to overcome the small-minded objections of her husband (David Warshofsky) because the dinner is basically about business. The guests are a smarmy Orange Country couple (Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass) along with Strutt and his wife (Amy Landecker).
But then Beatriz starts blowing it by ignoring the conservational flow and trying to pass along a moral or spiritual lesson whenever there’s a lull. Then she starts to drink too much wine. Then she throws a cell phone at Strutt over his disdain for society’s lessers. Then she insists on playing a song on her guitar. And then she begins to wonder if she might have a moral duty to stab Strutt in the neck. Then she has some more wine.
In short, Beatriz is a social calamity. And then it gets worse. By the finale the film seems to be saying “say a prayer for the spiritually pure of heart, for they’re always weak and defeatist when they look into the face of the devil.”
So I’m sorry but I didn’t like Beatriz at Dinner. Neither did a woman I spoke to her after the screening. If the ghost of Irving Thalberg had somehow been involved he would’ve made White re-write the ending before filming started. I felt slightly cheated and a bit angry when it ended. Arteta and White had a great concept, but they blew it when it came to bringing the third act to a satisfying conclusion.
Remember Bruce Dern‘s final moment in Hal Ashby‘s Coming Home? That’s all I’m going to say.