Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beatriz at Dinner

Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner is the story of a Mexican-American massage therapist who is unexpectedly invited to dinner by one of her clients where she finds herself dealing with an arrogant dinner guest. The film is a look into a dinner party filled with rich white people and a lone working-class Mexican-American who finds herself at a dinner where it eventually starts to unravel due to her presence. Starring Salma Hayek, Connie Britton, David Warshofsky, Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and John Lithgow. Beatriz at Dinner is an eerie yet somber film from Miguel Arteta.

What happens when a massage therapist finds herself being a guest at a dinner party where the man who is the center of attention happens to be one of the most evil men living on Earth? That is pretty much what the film is about as it explores a day in the life of this woman named Beatriz (Salma Hayek) who spends the day doing work at a massage therapy center in helping cancer patients as she also has a rich client in Kathy (Connie Britton). Mike White’s screenplay doesn’t just explore Beatriz’s day as she copes with loss of a goat who was killed by her neighbor but also a day that feels very typical until she is asked to see Kathy who is preparing for a dinner party with her husband Grant (David Warshofsky). Beatriz’s relationship with Kathy and Grant has much to do with the fact that Beatriz had helped their daughter with her battle with cancer. Due to the fact that Beatriz’s car couldn’t start, Kathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner where Beatriz spends much of the film being this observer as the guests at the dinner party are all white.

The guest of honor at this dinner party is the real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) who is this unconventional antagonist who seems to take pleasure in the money he makes as well as be arrogant in his accomplishments. Yet, Beatriz is curious over a connection she has with him as Strutt is accompanied by his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker) while a couple in Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) and Alex (Jay Duplass) are also guests at the party. Beatriz would observe everything that goes on while also telling about how she met Grant and Kathy through their daughter only to be interrupted by Strutt who would ask questions about her status in America. The dinner would eventually intensify with Kathy stuck in the middle wanting to protect Beatriz yet is aware that Strutt is the reason she and Grant are living a life of luxury as they really don’t know anything else.

Miguel Arteta’s direction doesn’t really bear much of a visual style other than recurring images of Mexico as well as Beatriz’s dead goat and ocean waves as it play into the sense of longing and loss that looms Beatriz during the course of the day. While there are some wide shots in the film including the way Arteta would frame some of the characters in a scene inside Kathy and Grant’s home as a way to show how detached everyone else is to Beatriz’s life and Beatriz herself. It’s also the way Arteta would use close-ups and medium shots to play into Beatriz’s own observation of this party as well as the guests who don’t know her at all as they find her interesting but are concerned about their own lives and what’s going to happen. Yet, with Strutt being the center of attention talking about his accomplishments and ultra-conservative views on the world. Beatriz would eventually find herself becoming more disgusted with him and who he is as a human being.

Arteta’s approach to the suspense and drama is restrained as well as it play into Beatriz being this outsider who would realize more of her connection to Strutt and his actions towards the world. There are these brief moments of intense moments of confrontation but it is all about the status quo as there’s elements of realism that Beatriz has to deal with as it relates to who she is and the ways of the world. Despite the things Strutt says and his actions about what he does, there is still an air of defiance and dignity in Beatriz in how Arteta would frame her as it does play into her place in the world. Overall, Arteta crafts a riveting and understated film about a Mexican-American massage therapist being a guest in a dinner party with one of the vilest men in the world.

Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield does excellent work with the film’s cinematography for the usage of low-key lights for the scenes in the daytime as well as the look for the scenes at night including its interior/exterior setting. Editor Jay Deuby does fantastic work with the editing as it does have bit of styles in the usage of the recurring flashbacks in some stylized transitions as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Ashley Fenton and set decorator Madelaine Frezza do amazing work with the look of Kathy and Grant’s home in how lavish it is as well as the look of their daughter’s room. Costume designer Christina Blackaller does wonderful work with the costumes as it play into the ordinary look of Beatriz to the more posh look of Kathy and her friends.

Visual effects supervisors George Loucas and Scott Mitchell do nice work with the visual effects as it is largely minimal for some exterior set dressing including images that Beatriz would see. The sound work of Dan Snow is superb for its low-key atmosphere in the dinner scenes as well as how Beatriz would observe guests outside the house as she is listening to their conversations. The film’s music by Mark Mothersbaugh is terrific for its low-key approach to the music with its mixture of ambient, soft keyboard-based music, and somber orchestral music to play into the melancholia while music supervisor Margaret Yen provides a low-key soundtrack filled with kitsch music played in the background as well as an ambient piece by Brian Eno.

The casting by Joanna Colbert and Meredith Tucker is amazing as it features a few small roles from John Early as Grant and Kathy’s servant and Enrique Castillo as a tow truck driver. Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny are superb in their respective roles as the couple Alex and Shannon with the former being someone who likes to drink and do immature things while the latter is a snobbish woman who believes she has a lot to offer. Amy Landecker is fantastic as Strutt’s wife Jeana as a woman who doesn’t really know much about the world as well as being ignorant about everything she has. David Warshofsky is excellent as Kathy’s husband Grant who isn’t keen on having Beatriz at the dinner party but reluctantly gives in since Beatriz did a lot for his daughter.

Connie Britton is brilliant as Kathy as a woman who is kind of Beatriz though she’s is torn in her loyalty to Strutt for the lifestyle he’s brought to her and Grant as well as what Beatriz meant to her as it’s a tricky performance from Britton who could’ve been a one-dimensional character but shows there’s still an air of humanity despite her ignorance of what Beatriz is going through. John Lithgow is incredible as Doug Strutt as it’s a performance that just oozes this air of inhumanity, arrogance, and disdain as someone who is proud of what he’s done with little regard for what other people think and whom he’s hurt as it is one of Lithgow’s great performances. Finally, there’s Salma Hayek in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a Mexican-American massage therapist who becomes an unexpected dinner guest as she deals with the other guests including Strutt whom she would despise as the night goes on as it’s a restrained performance from Hayek that shows a woman who’s endured so much loss and heartache as it’s Hayek in one of her defining performances.

Beatriz at Dinner is a sensational film from Miguel Arteta that features top-notch performances from Salma Hayek and John Lithgow. Featuring a compelling script by Mike White, a superb ensemble supporting cast, and a look into a world that is toxic with the person at the center of attention mirrors a certain figure who is probably the most hated individual of the 21st Century so far. In the end, Beatriz at Dinner is a spectacular film from Miguel Arteta.

Miguel Arteta Films: (Star Maps) – (Chuck & Buck) – (The Good Girl) – (Youth in Revolt) – Cedar Rapids - (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) – (Duck Butter)

© thevoid99 2018


Anonymous said...

This one really had the power to make me squirm. I think you're really hitting on something when you can hold your audience in such an uncomfortable state.

Alex Withrow said...

You are SO right about Connie Britton (one of my favorite working actors). Her character could've so easily been one dimensional, but instead, Britton made us feel her character's conflict. I loved her work in the film.

thevoid99 said... agree as I found myself hoping that someone kills John Lithgow as you kind of know who he's playing as he does such a great job in playing a character so detestable. Yet, you also have to remember that it's a movie and not everything goes a certain way as films often reflect our reality and why it's so hard to take action and also deal with the consequences.

@Alex-I was expecting Britton to be another typical character but she ended up doing more and credit to Mike White for giving her a meaty and complex role. She is so torn as I did feel for her. Connie Britton is very underrated and deserves some serious accolades.

Anonymous said...

That’s one stellar cast there. John Lithgow is a very reliable actor who delivers fine work in most things.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-John Lithgow is a man that can do anything and I love him for it. He can be funny, he can be detestable, he can be over-the-top, he can be sensitive. That's an actor everyone needs to be.