Major media often focus upon the rich and powerful while ignoring the far greater masses of average folks who just try to get through each day with their dignity intact.
The new film “Beatriz at Dinner” tries to turn the tables on that equation by following an unwittingly key day in the life of a simple woman who finds herself in an unexpected philosophical showdown with a billionaire and his friends.
The film opens on Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a single woman whose only source of companionship is her puppy and a couple of baby goats that she cares for in her modest Altadena home. While she plays with and feeds them in the morning, she also meditates and lights candles before a picture of another goat that recently died.
Beatriz is a woman with a sweet but muddled spirituality, having both a dancing Buddha figurine and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her ancient car as she drives to work at a Santa Monica cancer center. A holistic caregiver, she provides healing massages and yoga classes to her clients each day, helping them ward off death via alternatives to the risks of chemotherapy.
She later makes the hours-long trek to a Newport Beach client named Cathy (Connie Britton), who wants a massage before a big dinner party she and her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) are hosting for billionaire real estate developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). Cathy regards Beatriz as family because she helped save the life of her daughter Tara, and is shocked when Beatriz reveals that her next-door neighbor broke her goat’s neck.
When Beatriz finds herself stranded, with her car dead in their driveway, Cathy invites her to stay for dinner against Grant’s wishes. As their snooty friends Alex (Jay Duplass) and Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) arrive, it becomes clear that she is out of her element — and when Doug treats her with dismissive condescension, the table is set for a slow-building battle of the minds.
“Beatriz” bills itself as a comedy and has solid credentials from its indie-gods team of writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, who have done much stronger work together with Jennifer Aniston’s dramedy “The Good Girl.” Yet it is actually a deceptively dark drama, with heavy-handed discussions of class and environmentalism versus capitalism.
Beatriz is portrayed throughout as a heart-filled saint, while the wealthy characters are heartless and shallow in their apparent desire to destroy all that is good in the world.
The movie is only 83 minutes long, yet it takes forever to get going, spending a ton of setup time on pre-dinner conversations meant to convey the divisions between the two sides. Aside from Cathy, nearly every comment by the well-to-do is a heart-crushing dig at Beatriz, with the men cackling with glee and smoking stogies while sharing stories of rapacious business deals and the need to crush environmental protesters.
It’s a shame, because Hayek is clearly giving a heartfelt performance, rendering a wounded character who feels completely out of place not only with this rarefied household, but much of the world as a whole. Lithgow has fun being icily nasty, but there’s a fine line between satirizing a jerk and crossing the line into just being annoying, and he leaps right over it.
“Beatriz” takes a shocking couple of turns in its final minutes, with events that bring it far from the realm of comedy. That unfortunate set of circumstances winds up making Beatriz less sympathetic herself, and will likely leave all but the most ardently left-wing audience members more bummed than inspired. Grade: D
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Aisling Walsh
The moving real-life tale of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, who overcame crippling rheumatoid arthritis by becoming a beloved painter of outdoor scenes in her rural Nova Scotia hometown while also contending with a difficult but loving relationship with a loner named Everett. A quiet drama amid the bombastic blockbusters of summer, “Maudie” is riveting due to its terrific performances and heart. Grade: A
IT COMES AT NIGHT
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Length: 91 minutes
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
An arty psychological thriller that poses the question of when helping a stranger is dangerous, it stars Joel Edgerton as a man hiding with his family in the woods amid an apocalyptic disease outbreak who allows another family to move in. Very well-made and solidly acted, this nonetheless has such a grim and despairing view of human nature that it will make viewers feeling more miserable than entertained. Grade: C
Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella
Length: 110 minutes
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Tom Cruise’s latest attempt to find a blockbuster outside the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a muddled mess, as he plays a rogue soldier stealing exotic antiquities who inadvertently unearths and unleashes an evil, mummified Egyptian princess. Cruise almost makes it work until the last half hour, when the movie completely falls apart. It should have stayed buried. Grade: D
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Length: 141 minutes
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
The first superhero movie centered on a female superhero brings a fresh perspective to the genre, with director Patty Jenkins adding an impressive level of thought, heart and humor to the terrific action and visuals as Wonder Woman teams with a British spy to stop a nefarious German plan and an evil force amid World War I. Fun and expertly made on every level, it’s a must see. Grade: A
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron
Length: 116 minutes
Directed by: Seth Gordon
The big-screen adaptation of one of TV’s most inexplicably popular and utterly stupid series ever attempts to bring a knowing sense of humor by casting Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, but its unfunny mix of grossout raunch and serious attempts at action combine with an asinine plot about stopping a villainous club owner’s drug deals to make this one of the worst movies in years. Grade: F
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
Length: 129 minutes
Directed by: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
The fifth film in the series has Captain Jack Sparrow teaming with the son of Will Turner, a female accused of witchcraft and his crew in a race to find the mythical trident of Poseidon before his nemesis Captain Salazar, and break a slew of curses. The setpieces are often funny and the finale visually spectacular, but Depp is hanging on to this series as a source of treasure more than inspiration. Grade: B