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Beatriz at Dinner
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beatriz at Dinner is a drama about a kind, empathetic Mexican immigrant to America (Salma Hayek) who unexpectedly ends up having a tense, uncomfortable evening at a client's small dinner party, where she meets an unapologetically boorish billionaire (John Lithgow). The dinner party conversation includes occasional strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "motherf--ker," "a--hole," etc.) and complex social commentary that may well go over the head of younger viewers. (Possible spoiler alert!) There's one scene of unexpected violence, in which a character is stabbed, and another scene in which an angry party attendee purposely throws a phone on the floor when confronted with an upsetting photo. Things never get particularly racy, but there are quick kisses. Adults drink frequently and sometimes to excess; characters also smoke cigars. Aside from Hayek/Beatriz, the cast/characters aren't diverse; they're virtually all rich and white.
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What's the story?
The plot of BEATRIZ AT DINNER, as the title suggests, centers on Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a homeopathic massage therapist who pays a house call to Cathy (Connie Britton), a wealthy client who invites Beatriz to stay for dinner after her car won't start. Cathy has a soft spot for Beatriz, who used to do body work on Cathy's college-aged daughter when she had cancer. But Cathy's husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), is uneasy about the additional dinner guest, considering it's a celebratory work dinner with two other couples: commercial real estate billionaire Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and junior colleague Alex (Jay Duplass) and their wives. The men are partners in a somewhat shady but lucrative development deal. Early on, Doug mistakes Beatriz for the help, and things get considerably worse (and tenser) from there, culminating in an awkward dinner during which Beatriz checks Doug for his privilege, poor stewardship of the earth, and lack of compassion for the indigenous people he displaces (to name just a few of his flaws).
Is it any good?
Hayek is riveting in her restrained performance as an empathetic Mexican immigrant forced to engage with a boorish, racist, egomaniacal billionaire during an awkward dinner party. Unlike many Hollywood movies, Beatriz at Dinner favors substance over style. Despite a few touches of magical realism, the story is incredibly simple: After Beatriz' car trouble, Cathy misguidedly invites her to an important dinner, not considering how uncomfortable it will be for the hardworking healer to have to interact with domineering, casually racist businessman Doug. Playing against type, the usually glamorous Hayek is stripped of all of make up and couture -- and delivers a career-bolstering role that highlights her soulful eyes, expressive face, and fundamental talent.
Hayek gets a lot of help from Lithgow, who looks like he's having a ball playing Doug. His character bears more than a passing resemblance to Donald Trump: Doug is a real estate billionaire with a brash personality who has un-PC views on everything from immigration to environmental protection laws. His interactions with Beatriz are what creates the drama's delicious tension. Without Doug, there would be no vehicle for Beatriz' growth. The other supporting characters are also to the task. Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White have worked together on two other movies (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl); their third feature outing is a fascinating, funny, sad look at life in our current politically divided era. To the filmmakers' credit, Doug isn't pure evil; he has a point about Beatriz' seeming inability to just relax and enjoy herself. Beatriz is gentle but humorless, quiet but intense, and ultimately she's naive to believe that anything she says could change the dinner party's superficially self-congratulatory nature. This isn't a particularly easy film to watch -- the tension can border on cringe-inducing -- but seeing Hayek and Lithgow square off is a thing of acting beauty.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in Beatriz at Dinner. What do you think the filmmakers are trying to say? Are any characters in the movie clear role models? Why or why not?
How does the movie handle complex themes like class, politics, and race/ethnicity?
Do you think the character of Doug Strutt is intended to represent any real-life person/people? Why or why not?
How is Beatriz different from the other people at dinner? Is it just a matter of her background? Do you think the movie is trying to send a particular message/make a specific statement?
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