in beatriz at dinner, salma hayek gives a quiet tour de force

From the moment the camera lands on Salma Hayek to the moment the final shot takes place, we see a different side of the actress that had yet to be explored in her career. The melancholy in her eyes allows the viewer to connect with the titular character. But it is that quiet resilience and general sense of disappointment in her demeanor that made me question if this was really the same actress from Here Comes the Boom, Bandidas, and Grown Ups. Granted, to dismiss Salma Hayek’s fiery conviction in Frida, From Dusk til Dawn, and even Dogma, would be criminal. But still, one can’t help but think of this as a breakout performance in a particularly unconventional career.

 

The movie starts by giving us a look at a day in the life of Beatriz. She’s a massage therapist and healer working with alternative methods at a cancer center in Southern California. There’s an intimate scene at her apartment that gives us a glimpse at Beatriz’ psyche. From her interactions with her pets (including a goat), to her devotion to a shrine, we get the sense that Beatriz is a woman who is caring, sentimental, and genuine. Her line of work has her make a house call to an affluent Orange County client. The client is Kathy played by Connie Britton, a woman Beatriz has known for years. After her massage appointment takes an abrupt and rather unprofessional end, Beatriz struggles to leave the affluent house as her beat-down car is not cooperating. Kathy invites Beatriz (with hesitation from her husband who just wants the evening to go perfectly) to stay for dinner while she gets someone to fix her car. While reluctant at first, Beatriz agrees to stay, clearly not anticipating the events that were to follow.

 

Beatriz is clearly out of her comfort zone. Her clothes mirror those of the staff, her face and hair undone, and her attempt to look more presentable is to tuck her shirt in her pants. As the evening unfolds, the first guests start arriving starting with Shannon and Alex in scene-stealing turns by Chlöe Sevigny and Jay Duplass. Think of them as a real-life representation of the “Two A-Holes” in the SNL sketches played by Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis. We witness Beatriz’ awkwardness in the form of her unsolicited hugs when introducing herself to the guests. Clearly these people are not used to the kind of intimacy Beatriz is used to providing. The next guests to arrive are Hotelier Doug Strutt and his wife Jeana. Doug is played by John Lithgow in an exquisitely Trumpian manner while Amy Landecker gives a needed dimension to an otherwise cartoonish trophy wife. What follows is a series of awkward exchanges leading up to the dinner which make it clear that Beatriz doesn’t belong there. In a squirming moment (the audience at the 7:05pm Tuesday showing gasped in disbelief), Doug mistakes Beatriz for the help. She is seen pounding on white wine, perhaps in an effort to feel more at ease.

 

At the climax of the film, we take a seat at the dinner table. The intimate affair flows effortlessly as we see the men joke about illicit business affairs, the women comment on their appetizers, and Beatriz quietly trying to chime in. The dinner quickly becomes the Doug and Beatriz show as the two unlikely adversaries try to get to know more about each other in completely different ways. Beatriz, fueled by an inner bad feeling, is trying to dig details of  the hotelier, while his main concern is her citizenship status. 

 

Without giving too much away, I will admit that the best moments of the film come during the third and final act. The movie masterfully builds up the momentum towards a conclusion that is sure to be divisive to the audience. We see a scene where in an effort to fix the uncomfortable aura she created, Beatriz performs a song to the guests, a song in Spanish that for about two minutes makes the tension disappear. While not her first musical foray in film, the emotion Hayek conveys in the performance, will definitely resonate with audiences in any language. This quiet tour de force makes the whole movie worthwhile. 

 

The movie has equal parts satire, comedy, and drama. It is unlike anything Salma Hayek has done, but it definitely ranks amongst her best work. The anticlimactic ending of the film will haunt you for hours after watching. For me, it inspired an inner debate on the overall state of humanity. Are my personal efforts towards good even making a difference? What’s more difficult, to heal or to kill? With everything so evidently dying, is cynicism the way to go? 

 

Perhaps I won’t be able to answer those questions today. Maybe I won’t ever be able to, but one thing is for sure, the conversation created by the film, is one that’s essential to have today. 

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