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Beatriz at Dinner: Malice on the Menu

Salma Hayek serves up one of the best performances of the year.

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As Beatriz, Salma Hayek is scrubbed down and wrapped in so many layers of clothes, she looks like, well, the rest of us—but her beauty still radiates. Beatriz, the titular character in a new film from Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta, is a good, almost saintly, person. Every morning, she is greeted in her modest bedroom by a menagerie of puppies and baby goats. She meditates. She works at a cancer center, providing massage and other forms of homeopathic care. To make ends meet, she offers private massage sessions, which is why she is in the Newport Beach, Calif., mansion of Cathy (Connie Britton) and Grant (David Washofsky), parents of one of Beatriz's former cancer patients. Unfortunately, Beatriz's Volkswagen clunker breaks down in their driveway, stranding her far from home. Cathy insists Beatriz stay for an intimate dinner party she and Grant are having that evening.

Things go downhill from there—unfortunately for Beatriz but fortunately for viewers. Screenwriter Mike White (School of Rock, HBO's Enlightened) insists he penned the script in 2015, which is difficult to believe considering how expertly it exposes our nation's current cultural divide.

Beatriz brings the party of six to seven. As the "plus-one" of the evening, she is continually dismissed or talked down to. When Beatriz is in the company of the women, they disparage her caregiving with such gems as, "I love all that psychic stuff." The men confuse Beatriz for a maid and bark drink orders at her.

The biggest boor of the evening is the guest of honor, evil Trump-esque billionaire David Strutt, played by John Lithgow.

(Allow me a small digression here: Is there anything Lithgow can't do? He's as fabulous now as he was when I saw him on Broadway forty years ago.)

"Where are you from?" David asks Beatriz in a condescending tone. When she tells him she lives in Catalina, Calif., he snaps, "Yeah, but where are you really from?"

Things go from bad to worse when, 90 seconds after sitting down to dinner, David insists on knowing how Beatriz came to America. When she explains she is here legally, he persists, demanding to know how she migrated from Mexico. Not long after, Beatriz recognizes David as the developer who destroyed her Mexican village when she was a girl, forcing people out of their homes and jobs.

On the menu for the rest of Beatriz at Dinner are several courses of throwing things, smoking weed, swimming in the ocean, sharpening a letter opener and a bit of bloodshed.

Hayek, who said she received the script from White as a 50th birthday present, recently told NPR she spent years as a young actress auditioning for roles like "drug dealer's wife," "hot Latina," "maid" and "supermarket extra." Things turned around when she produced the 2002 biopic Frida, which earned Hayek an Oscar nomination and newfound respect in her industry.

"Nobody wanted to do it. Nobody helped me with it," Hayek told NPR. "Then little by little they started changing their minds, and what a beautiful journey it has been."

In the following years, Hayek has seen significant box office (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sausage Party) and critical (The Prophet, Septembers of Shiraz) success. The Motion Picture Academy would be well advised to keep Beatriz at Dinner on its radar when considering some of the best performances of 2017—both from Hayek and Lithgow.

Arteta brings Beatriz and Dinner in at a tight 83 minutes, and though the party doesn't resolve civilly, the film should trigger plenty of positive post-movie conversations among audiences. I can't think of a better digestif.


Related Film

Beatriz at Dinner

Official Site: www.beatrizatdinnermovie.com

Director: Miguel Arteta

Producer: Pamela Koffler, Aaron Gilbert, David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Jason Cloth, Andy Pollack, Alan Simpson, Richard McConnell, Sander Shalinsky, Lewis Hendler, Jose Tamez, Brad Feinstein and Paul Tennyson

Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky, John Early, Enrique Castillo, Soledad St. Hilaire, Amelia Borella, Sean O'Bryan and Natalia Abelleyra

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