When it comes to making audiences squirm, dark comedies pretty much have that at a lock. However, with some of the best satires, they have something to say; they comment on genre cliches, certains directors/actors, and they unmask the choas of what's happening in the world. Director Miguel Arieta's razor-sharp Beatriz at Dinner successfully does just that. It is also one of the first great feel-bad films of the Trump era.
Salma Hayek (in a marvelous, career-best performance) is Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor Mexican town who inputs wisdom and kindness as a spirtual-health practitioner/message in Los Angeles. She steps back into the lives of a very wealthy couple (Connie Britton and David Warshofsky) of whom their daughter was once a patient. Because of a chance of fate, which comes in the form of her car breaking down at the home of the couple, she is invited to a formal dinner party where she meets their equally wealthy friends, in particular, snarky and ruthless real-estate developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). The food and wine is served, and the jokes come sharp and furious as Beatriz and Doug face off in a cultural clash of grimly comic circumstances and an uncomfortable night that will change the two of them forever.
As a vicious satire of social malaise, Beatriz really makes the blood boil, because you instantly side with Hayek. You feel her discomfort of being surrounded by people who are obviously more privileged than she is. When she is trying to speak her mind, she is literally interrupted by talks of money, power, and class. This is a timely theme, especially in terms of the immigrant experience and how humanity always comes in a distant second to corruption and racism. In today's tramatic circumstances, the film couldn't have come at a much better time.
Ms. Hayek (stripped down and makeup-free) really blew me away with her portrayal as Beatriz. This is the role she was born to play and she is brilliantly matched by the great Lithgow (who gives another career triumph) as Strutt. If they don't get Oscar nominations for this film, then something is really wrong. Britton, Warshofsky, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny also hold their own with great supporting performances.
Besides the theatrical trailer and trailers of other films (Lady Macbeth, The Dinner, Dean, and The Wall), the DVD is pretty much bare bones. It would have been great to see a commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, or behind-the-scenes featurettes, but I guess you have to work with what you got.
Anyway, I was floored by this film's sharp subject matter because it really reflects the times and should really open the eyes of everyone who sees it. This dinner may not be the most normal, but it is certainly one you won't soon forget.
Beatriz at Dinner is available on DVD on September 12.