Drama offers unflinching yet underdeveloped depiction of Trump’s America
By Noah Orent – Contributing Writer
America is seven months into the Trump administration and we are more divided than ever before. Liberals and conservatives are at each other’s throats over how to handle hot-button issues. Threats from without and from within continue to intensify with each passing day. Our President spends more time tweeting his dislike for liberal opponents and less time focusing on national security matters. So when the media takes advantage of the saying “art imitates life”, as it has done ever since Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, one should expect an accurate depiction of the world under the Trump administration.
“Beatriz at Dinner” aims to make said critique. It aims to demonstrate the current political climate in America by taking two characters with radically different worldviews, confining them to a small setting, and allowing the ensuing confrontation to speak for itself. At least, that’s what it tries – and ultimately fails – to accomplish.
Portrayed by Academy Award-nominated actress Salma Hayek, the titular Beatriz is trapped in a world of solitude. A Mexican-American immigrant working as a masseuse therapist and holistic healer, she lives in a cramped Southern California home with her pet dogs and baby goat for company. She spends her days either using alternative therapies to treat cancer patients or making house calls to wealthy clients.
The film opens with one such house call. The client in question, Newport Beach resident Cathy (Connie Britton), is grateful for Beatriz helping her teenage daughter recover from Hodgkin’s disease. She’s so grateful that, when Beatriz’s car breaks down, she invites her to stay over until arrangements can be made.
The timing could not be worse for Cathy’s husband Grant (David Warshofsky), who is hosting a dinner party to mark the closing of a development deal between his company and that of real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). Cathy, however, stands her ground, forcing Grant to accept. But when the guests start to arrive and the alcohol starts to flow, Beatriz instigates a war of words that could have a major impact on everyone involved.
Ms. Hayek’s rendering of the title role can only be described as irritating. While she displays raw emotion throughout the dinner sequence, said emotion makes her look less like a character and more like a shrill factory worker who goes on strike whenever something doesn’t go her way.
Mr. Lithgow is equally exasperating as Strutt, primarily due to the fact that the only quality he possesses is a cold indifference to life as a whole. He may ooze a condescending arrogance from the moment he makes his entrance, but said arrogance gets tiresome after listening to him demean the opposite sex for half an hour. In my opinion, he should have backed out the minute he learned Strutt was a caricature of our Commander-in-Chief.
With regards to the other guests, their purpose in the film is a simple one: Flaunt traits that are typical of the one-percenters. Jenna (Amy Landecker) and Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) chortle over leaked photos of a female celebrity’s genitals while Grant and Alex (Jay Duplass) swill their scotch and boast about their successful endeavors. We want to know more about them, to break through the one-dimensional facade and see them for who they really are. But we never do.
Perhaps the most frustrating issue with this film is its failure to capture the reality of its subject matter. Mike White’s script glosses over the racial and societal tensions that comprise the film’s central theme, their significance overshadowed by the overcooked concoction of cliches and shallow characters. Without that significance, it becomes difficult to care about the characters propelling the story or, for that matter, the story itself.
Had director Miguel Arteta added a touch of freshness to the final product, there might have been something to look forward to. But as it stands, “Beatriz at Dinner” will force you to leave the theater with one question in mind: Why was this film ever made?