“Beatriz at Dinner” will remind you of every uncomfortable dinner party you’ve ever attended, times 100.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek), an immigrant from Mexico who’s a holistic healer, finds herself stuck at the remote hillside home of her wealthy client, Kathy (Connie Britton), when her ancient car breaks down. Well-meaning Kathy invites Beatriz to join her dinner party — a celebration of a successful business deal with billionaire developer Doug (John Lithgow).
Things begin awkwardly (the elegantly dressed white guests assume that Beatriz, a Latina in sensible sneakers and chinos, is the help), and get worse from there.
Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White (collaborators on the films “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl,” and the TV series “Enlightened”), “Beatriz at Dinner” sounds as if it could be played for laughs, and there are moments, such as when Chloe Sevigny’s social-climbing guest airily asks for a drink with a “splash of cran,” that feel like perfect satire. But Hayek plays her role with such gentle conviction, the movie quickly becomes something else: a sort of tragedy of manners.
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The soft-spoken Beatriz, who loves animals (a goat sleeps in the bedroom of her modest home) and greets everyone she meets — including the bemused party guests — with a warm hug, has an affectionate relationship with Kathy, whose daughter she treated during an illness. But that relationship wasn’t quite a friendship, as soon becomes clear at the party.
Beatriz can’t keep quiet when Doug brags about hunting (he killed animals on safari in Africa) or about his business triumphs.
“All your pleasures are built on others’ pain,” she blurts out, her tongue freed by Kathy’s expensive wine. The tension ratchets up; you wonder how this excruciating evening can possibly end.
It’s a film filled with unexpected beauty: the “wishing lanterns” that giddy guests send up into the night sky; the vision of an exquisite, cloud-flecked dawn on the morning after; the frequent close-ups of Hayek’s eyes as they slowly harden.
Its ending is curious, dreamy and vaguely unsettling. The party’s over, but the discomfort lingers.
‘Beatriz at Dinner’
Rated R for language and a scene of violence. 1:23. Kentucky.