Beatriz at Dinner
John Lithgow is marvelous as a heartless billionaire and Salma Hayek is pretty good herself as the titular guest in Beatriz at Dinner. But while the film’s handful of supporting characters each have their appeal, none are as well developed as the two played by its most famous stars.
The superficiality is a surprise coming from director Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids) and writer Mike White (School of Rock), whose work isn’t exactly known for slacking in that department. Perhaps blinded by the urgency of topicality, in their latest collaboration the filmmakers badly want the experience to be a searing indictment of the absurdly wealthy, and for a little while it’s fairly sharp stuff.
A healer, which in certain company gets reduced to “masseuse,” Beatriz can’t get her car to start outside the luxurious Newport Beach home of her client Kathy (Connie Britton). Since it’ll be hours before her friend can arrive to pick her up, and thanks to her long history with the family, especially helping their daughter through chemotherapy, she’s invited to stay and eat as they celebrate the completion of a deal pulled off by her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) and his colleagues.
With Beatriz in her humble duds, hovering to the point of being mistaken for the waitstaff, and early arrivers Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) and Alex (Jay Duplass) making small talk over whose salary is bigger, the film embraces being a comedy of class and manners with Beatriz the proxy for average Americans.
Once Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker) get there, however, Beatriz at Dinner reveals its true colors as not much more than (a surprisingly long) 80 minutes of wanting viewers to be appalled at the words, actions and beliefs of the one percent.
Showdowns between Doug and Beatriz are easily the film’s fieriest and Lithgow is so committed to this embodiment of all that’s wrong with humanity that he’s able to keep the film afloat when she’s absent from the room.
Still, the generally unimaginative finger-wagging continues without making new points, dragging the once-promising premise down in the process.
Grade: B-minus. Rated R. Starts June 23 at Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Lacey Terrell)