Monday, June 12, 2017

Hayek & Lithgow shine in Miguel Arteta & Mike White's timely triumph, BEATRIZ AT DINNER

Maybe it's simply a matter of these deadly and trying times, but so many movies suddenly seem to address this era of our would-be dictator Donald Trump and his slovenly, bought-out Congress -- either obliquely, in tales that deal with how the refusal to take responsibility for one's actions results in terrible pain and tragedy for others, as in the film I covered this past Saturday (Moka) and the one I will cover tomorrow (Harmonium), or directly, as with the documentary my colleague Lee Liberman posted on yesterday (Get Me Roger Stone) and today's dynamite offering, BEATRIZ AT DINNER, brought to us by a continually expansive and growing pair of filmmakers, director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White (shown below, with White on the left, Arteta at center, and the star of their new film, Salma Hayek, on the right).

Mr. Arteta has given us so many good and interesting movies and television work -- from Chuck & Buck through The Good Girl and Getting On -- while White continues to amaze via his own deceptively deep and not-so-easy-to-pigeonhole humor, versatility and commitment (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, School of Rock, and especially that amazing HBO series, Enlightened). With Beatriz at Dinner, which has not a little in common with Enlightened, the two come together with one of their finest, most elegant and on-the-nose collaborations yet.

What White and Arteta have done is to set up a near-perfect situation involving -- if you chose to see it this way -- class, race, economics and politics, resulting in an, again, near-perfect showdown of, well, good versus evil. Good comes in the form of our heroine, Beatriz, played with such clear-hearted concern for humanity together with quiet fire and determination by Ms Hayek, that her character becomes instantly classic. When the name Beatriz is uttered henceforth, it'll be of this character that most moviegoers will immediately think. (For a quick but surprisingly full look at the versatility, not to mention beauty and talent, of Ms Hayek, I'd recommend a viewing of this film, together with Everly and As Luck Would Have It: two movies that show quite different sides of this actress.

Once the filmmakers set up their situation -- a dinner party whose wealthy, entitled guests include the kind of genuinely successful and powerful businessman that Donald Trump has long aspired (but failed utterly) to be. That's right: No bankruptcies and consistent loses for this guy. And yet, this powerhouse, quite properly named Doug Strutt, has also consistently despoiled the environment and caused various unwelcome diasporas around the globe. Strutt is played by John Lithgow (above), giving yet another of this actor's remarkable performances, and he is a fine and uber-nasty/intelligent example of major evil in today's world, as well as exactly the right foil for Hayek's Beatriz

How these two meet, match and go at it is set up so efficiently, cleverly and quickly that before we know it, we're neck-deep in the kind of situation and question that is on the mind of anyone who has considered the world at large, the haves and have-nots, climate change, and the continuing polarization of wealth and poverty in the western countries (it's always been there in those third-world spots).

The dinner party's host and hostess (David Warshofsky and Connie Britton, above, left and right, respectively) are initially welcoming (she much more than he) but as tempers rise and truth faces down power, they must honor their own needs above all else. Also present is the developer (Jay Duplass, below, center, right) who has put together an important project that Strutt is bankrolling, his date (a high-level PR person played by Chloë Sevigny), and Strutt's current significant other (Amy Landecker). Plus, of course, the hired help on the host/hostesses' staff.

Each actor has the chance to shine a bit, given White' cleverly unshowy but pungent dialog that never stoops to the kind of cheap and obvious laughs in which another recent popular and critically acclaimed rich-white-people-as-hosts movie, Get Out, indulges. And while the filmmakers hand us their situation all wrapped in a beautiful box with ribbon and bow, they choose not to solve this great world problem for us.

Oh, they certainly offer a couple of options, one of which you will not be able to nay-say too strongly, given how the movie develops. They make that particular option seems awfully inviting and, in fact, maybe the only legitimate way to proceed. Or not. One of the frustrating strengths of Beatriz at Dinner is that it forces us to consider all this in a manner that proves much more than mere "movie fodder." The film brings us face to face with a question most of us would prefer not to have to answer: What responsibility do we have as individuals for what is happening to our country and to our world?

Via the character of Beatriz, together with Ms Hayek's fine performance, we get a strong glimpse of believable and genuine spirituality of the sort seldom encountered on screen. (How White & Arteta set up Beatriz's character so eloquently and immediately in the movie's initial scene is exemplary.) Yet it this very spirituality that, in the end, probably prevents the kind of action necessary to counter the evil on display. As my friend and co-writer Lee Liberman asked at the end of yesterday's post:
Other suggestions? 

From Roadside Attractions and running a sleek and highly serviceable 83 minutes, the movie, after opening last weekend in our nation's cultural/entertainment centers, hits others cities in the days to come. Here in the South Florida area, it will open in the Miami areas at Regal's South Beach 18, the Landmark at Merrick Park 7, AMC's Aventura Mall 24 and Sunset Place 24; in  Ft. Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway; and in Boca Raton at the Cinemark Palace 20 and Regal Shadowood 16. On Friday, June 23, it will hit Miami's O Cinema. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on GET TICKETS.

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