BEATRIZ AT DINNER: Like Nicole Kidman (THE HOURS), Salma Hayek (FRIDA) has always done her best work when she sheds her glamorous persona. As a holistic therapist on the verge of a mental breakdown, Hayek gives a nuanced and layered performance that allows one to witness the internal anguish on her face. But sparks fly when car trouble makes her an unlikely dinner guest in the presence of a ruthless real estate developer (John Lithgow) whose projects displace both animals and poor people. Sound like anyone you know? Their verbal sparring over subjects like immigration and the morality of hunting animals for sport does induce awkwardness among the elitist, white dinner guests but it also is replete with dialogue that creates the kind of dramatic interplay that filmmakers are sometimes leery about putting in their works. Occasionally, Mike White’s screenplay is afflicted with what I call “DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) Syndrome” where one group of people are painted with the brush of nobility to the detriment of another group made to look foolish and shallow. But Lithgow (See CLOSING CREDITS.) injects some depth in his otherwise villainous character even though he reinforces deBalzac’s notion that “behind every great fortune, there is a crime”. It is Hayek, though, who carries the film on the strength of her absorbing and arresting work (Although when she strums the guitar and sings in one scene, I kept thinking that hit men were outside the house coming to kill her and Antonio Banderas.). I doubt that anybody will buy into the conclusion (Which I won’t reveal.) or be satisfied with it since it doesn’t entirely mesh with the title character. But it hardly detracts from a movie that’s skillfully directed by Miguel Arteta (CHUCK & BUCK) who is apparently at home with characters whose troubles and inner turmoil make them all the more fascinating.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some other good movies starring John Lithgow – ALL THAT JAZZ (1979), BLOW OUT (1981), THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982)*, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)*, FOOTLOOSE (1984), MEMPHIS BELLE (1990), CLIFFHANGER (1993), THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993), A CIVIL ACTION (1998), SHREK (2001), KINSEY (2004), THIS IS 40 (2012), LOVE IS STRANGE (2014)
*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor