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A holistic medicine practitioner attends a wealthy client’s dinner party after her car breaks down.
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Stars: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton
Review by Gilbert Seah
Director Miguel Arteta and scriptwriter Mike White have worked together many times and are famous for their quirky little gems, the most notable being their debut feature, CHUCK AND BUCK. Their latest film BEATRIZ AT DINNER, which opened Sundance continues the trend.
The film opens with shots of Breatriz (Salma Hayek) at her home. She owns a goat and dog, works at a Cancer Centre and is at home with nature and healing. Just as one would dismiss this woman, who believes in reincarnation and giving back to the planet as a new age floozy, director Arteta and scriptwriter White slowly and effectively wins her over to the audience’s side. This is partly due to pitting her against a real nasty opposite human being, one that delights in the sport of hunting, disposing of wild life and displacing innocent people form their homes, a filthy rich land developer called Doug Struut (John Lithgow).
It all starts, innocently enough when Beatriz gives wealthy client Cathy (Connie Britton) a massage at her home. When Beatriz’s car is unable to start, she is invited to stay for the husband Grant’s (David Warshofsky) company dinner party – a celebration of some big deal the company has succeeded in winning.
The dinner guests arrive one couple at a time. It is clear that Beatriz and the dinner guests are not of the same ‘human’ wavelength. Except for Cathy who has more respect and tolerance for Beatriz, because she has helped her family with their child’s recuperation from cancer, each of the other dinner guests, including her husband treats Breatriz with a certain disdain that she is beneath them in class.
Arteta builds his film effectively to an escalating climax. Things reach a boiling point when Beatriz discovers how evil Strutt is and that a lot of evil in the world including her personal family loss are a direct result of his actions. It is emphasized that fate occurs for a reason. Soon she realizes that she could have been present for the dinner for a reason as fate dictates. She could root out evil at its source by murdering Strutt.
Salma Hayek delivers an excellent performance as the holistic nurse driven almost to righteous insanity. John Lithgow is equally excellent as the menacing villain, the one the audience would gladly stab in the back. All the supporting actors are equally good, credit given to the excellent casting.
A lot of films have used music or a song to break the monotony of a film or to create a highlight. Director Marlene Ape did it with her character rendering a full version of the Whitney Houston song “The Greatest Love of All” in TONY ERDMANN that earned the very rare standing ovation midway in the film at Cannes. Arteta attempts the same feat, with Hayek singing a Spanish song, to the accompaniment of her guitar playing. Though the words are in Spanish, the effect is no less powerful.
BEATRIZ AT DINNER ends with a non-typical happy ending that might not satisfy everyone. But one must remember that this is not ones typical standard film, but a quirky Arteta/White collaboration.
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