Beatriz at Dinner ★½

When I was a little kid, my favorite book of all time was The Lorax. I'm not sure why I loved it so much (it probably had something to do with the clever rhyming and pictures), but I still appreciate it to this day for a number of reasons. Primarily, I love it because it conveys a message while simultaneously fulfilling its core purpose-- to entertain. I may not agree with some specifics of The Lorax, but as a larger metaphor it works, and the fact that it's so approachable no matter where you fall on the political spectrum speaks volumes for the depth of its imagination.

The fact that something like Beatriz at Dinner can exist in the same world as The Lorax is utterly astounding to me. One-sided, simplistic, and sickeningly assured of its own moral high ground, the film has no interest in igniting rational debate or reaching out to the other side of the aisle. Instead, it preaches to the choir with unrelenting self-righteousness, wearing its motives on its sleeve and all but abandoning the concept of subtlety. If nothing else, the endless praise that has been heaped upon it is indicative of just how out-of-touch movies like it (and the people who love them) are.

Beatriz at Dinner stars Salma Hayek as the titular character, a Mexican immigrant living in southern California who works as a "healer," meditating, burning incense, smoking weed, and doing yoga, all while charging rich white women exorbitant prices for massages. After her car breaks down while making a house call, she stays for dinner at a mansion in Orange County, which leads to her encounter with Doug (John Lithgow)-- a real estate developer whose company has no regard for environmental regulations. This battle of the sexes (or more accurately, battle of the stereotypes) serves as the catalyst for the movie's plot.

From there, what could have been a fairly clever comedy of manners slowly morphs into an unpleasant, morally questionable mess. The movie's premise banks heavily on Beatriz's likability, but she becomes just as insufferable and pigheaded as the people around her, interrupting others, constantly talking about herself, and disrespecting the host at a party she wasn't even invited to. The audience is supposed to cheer for her in her moral crusade, but she comes across as needlessly confrontational and completely unaware of her surroundings. Shouldn't a character who's supposedly so in tune with her environment understand when she's making others uncomfortable? And if she doesn't care about other people's feelings, why should we sympathize with her? Lithgow's character is admittedly nasty, but his bad qualities aren't enough to warrant Beatriz's inexcusable treatment of the other partygoers. Instead of having one character to root for among a cast of unlikable, shallow one-percenters, we're given a group of people who are all unlikable in their own unique ways. Welcome to America in 2017.

Hayek is passable as Beatriz, but the character is so poorly written it almost doesn't matter. She flip-flops between a righteous moral crusader and an apologetic wimp depending on what the scene requires, to the point that I almost would have preferred a one-note character if it meant she would gain some consistency. Rather than changing any minds, her irrational, alcohol-induced emotional appeals will leave the characters in the film (and the audience) even more entrenched in their ways. I went into this film expecting a serious argument between two polar opposites, not a banal melodrama, but for anyone who wanted to see honest perspectives from two well-rounded characters... well, keep waiting. If it weren't for Lithgow's gleefully unrepentant performance as Doug, my praise for this film would even scanter.

Can a film this obvious even be classified as social commentary? The movie takes it for granted that we will root for Beatriz no matter what, and so it does absolutely nothing to develop her character or make her worthy of our support. Rather than use Doug as the impetus for the arguments, most of their disagreements begin with Beatriz, who incessantly badgers him about the environment-- which has the ironic result of making him seem like the victim. It becomes so self-defeating that I began to wonder if the film was actually an incredibly subtle commentary on liberal self-righteousness, deliberately insulting its audience's intelligence by pandering to them in the most blatant way possible. But no... I think we were actually supposed to find these vindictive, fact-free, belligerent arguments convincing. How tone-deaf can you be?

By the end, the film has become obvious to the point that it's practically surreal. I had expected some sort of reconciliation or optimism, some sort of common ground, some acknowledgement that both of these characters are humans and Americans. No such thing occurred. Instead, we're treated to Beatriz's elaborate fantasy of stabbing John Lithgow in the neck with a letter opener. What a peaceful, serene, and likable character! She's so in tune with nature that she feels the pain of an animal just by touching it-- but also, she fantasizes about murdering people because she disagrees with them. No contradiction here whatsoever! I honestly expected her to walk into the ocean at the end and transform into a water nymph, just to drive home the point of how superior she is to everyone else in the film. It wouldn't have surprised me in the slightest.

Beatriz at Dinner is a product of our times, and it exemplifies just how divided America has become. The right is uninformed to the point that they believe the word of Russian hackers over American intelligence agencies, and the left has successfully deluded itself into thinking movies like this are clever. This film didn't just disappoint me, it depressed me, and it made me even more unsure of whether or not red and blue America will ever mend their divide. It's fairly horrifying.

At least we'll always have The Lorax.