I’m usually not a fan of uncomfortable comedies. Occasionally, one comes along that’s funny enough to allow me to get past the awkwardness, but rarely do I actually embrace it and find that it benefits the movie. Beatriz at Dinner is a comedy whose humor depends entirely on its awkwardness, and although I’m not completely enamored with it, it’s a lot better than it could have been.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a holistic healer who spends a lot of time working with cancer patients and their families. Cathy and Grant (Connie Britton and David Warshofsky) met her when their daughter had cancer, and Cathy took a real liking to her. Beatriz is also a gifted masseuse, so Cathy takes advantage of her services from time to time. Like when she needs to relax on the night before Grant’s big business dinner party. Grant is in the construction business, and he’s done extremely well for himself. They’re celebrating a deal with mega-super-ultra-rich real estate mogul Doug (John Lithgow), lawyer Alex (Jay Duplass) who helped push the deal through, along with their wives, Jeana (Amy Landecker) and Shannon (Chloë Sevigny).
After the massage session, Beatriz finds that her car won’t start. Cathy considers her a family friend, so she invites her to join the dinner party. As the evening progresses, it’s clear that Doug is an immense, entitled asshole who doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and who is hated by pretty much everyone who’s come in contact with him in a situation in which they didn’t stand to directly profit from it. With the help of several glasses of wine, Beatriz is more than willing to tell him off.
There are a number of admirable things about this film. Lithgow, who has plenty of experience playing the bad guy, absolutely nails his part. He boasts about his various illegal and immoral accomplishments as a way of showing off for the intended dinner guests while being completely indifferent to and dismissive of Beatriz and society in general. Conversely, Hayek plays Beatriz as a much stronger character than you would imagine, refusing to let herself be bullied or intimidated.
On the other hand, while I can buy the stilted “oh please don’t let me say something to make the richest guy here even slightly uncomfortable” vibe most of the other diners seem to have, Jay Duplass seems to be actively trying to make you hate him with his incredibly annoying performance. And it works. I was also put off by the ending of the movie. I get it, and I agree that it’s probably a realistic way of approaching the situation, but I still found it overly artsy and unsatisfying, and it’s hard to say more about it without giving anything away. It’s still a movie worth seeing, but I just wish it had found a way to go out on a different note.