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Beatriz at Dinner sells itself as the "first important film of the Trump Era," a galvanizing must-see sparring between two embodiment's of the modern American political landscape. In the blue corner the genteel, multi-cultural, bilingual immigrant Beatriz (Hayek) and the red, the boorish super-rich real-estate mogul Doug Strutt (Lithgow). Who will come out on top? Surely not the audience.
The optimal title for this movie should have been Beatriz and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. She begins her morning feeding her dogs and calming her bleating pet lamb before driving down to work at a ramshackle clinic in downtown L.A.. She claims to be a healer - massage, reiki, rolfing - the kind of stuff that would sound like hokum if Beatriz wasn't so emphatically a believer. Her last task of the day involves a long drive to Malibu to meet with a wealthy client. Her car dies on the driveway, thus her hosts reluctantly invite her to a dinner they are throwing to celebrate a new business venture.
The movie's rising action unfolds largely as you would expect. The slight misreading of social cues and awkward culture clashes turn into a snowballing array of devilishly clever faux pas. The dinner itself, while never quite as caustic as it should be, nevertheless showcases the characters as a menagerie of conflicting personalities all containing themselves to conform to social graces.
Then much like Beatriz after one too many glasses of white wine, the movie just seems to forget itself. It sidesteps the character dynamics it so lovingly created and all but deflates any chance of investment. Beatriz and Doug by this point are no longer human but pallid adversarial mouthpieces that don't even talk at one another but through one another. And they do so in the most sanctimonious of ways, diluting what and how they think in the form of talking-points that'd be better served on someone's back bumper. "All tears flow from the same source;" "what the world needs is jobs;" "the world is dying;" "there's way more satisfaction in building things." These are the kinds of grandiose statements you can expect from this movie, dispensed like oh so many socio-political McNuggets.
By the end of the evening, it becomes clear that director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White have a thematic endgame in mind. What results is a conclusion that no doubt feels forced and too little too late, though given the film's lack of plot, it should get brownie points for actually getting us there. But once we do get there, the shallow vanity, vitriolic banter and the ever present power dynamics all seem to be beside the point. Much like Blue State (2007), Fast Food Nation (2006) and other such movies, Beatriz at Dinner isn't really a movie so much as it is an overt statement that forgot the cameras were rolling.
Have we seriously gotten to the point where we have forgotten how to do satire? Given the high-concept, Beatriz at Dinner could have been a less sophomoric version of The Last Supper (1995) with flutters of Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) painted in for good measure. Instead we're given a film that's just not enough of anything. It's not aggressive enough, its not satirical enough, it's not nuanced enough - heck it's not even sanctimonious enough! It's sits there in a drunken fugue, angrily seething before ambling away in a worrisome state. If I were you, I wouldn't encourage movies like this by following it.
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