Salma Hayek is having quite a year. Her scene-stealing performance in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” confirms her skills as comedian. But it’s in the black comedy “Beatriz at Dinner” (Lionsgate), now available on DVD, that she shines brightest, potentially leading to an Oscar nomination. Written by queer writer/filmmaker Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta (the man behind gay-oriented films “Chuck and Buck and Star Maps”), “Beatriz at Dinner” perfectly captures the dark mood in the age of Trump.
The titular Beatriz (Hayek) is a born healer and animal lover from Mexico. She lives with her two dogs and a goat in Altadena. Beatriz had two goats but her vicious neighbor killed one of them for bleating too much. She meditates and keeps various religious symbols within sight to maintain inner peace.
A holistic massage therapist who also leads yoga sessions and performs reiki at a Southern California cancer treatment center, Beatriz first met Kathy (Connie Britton) when Kathy’s daughter Tara was being treated for Hodgkin’s. Since then, Beatriz and Kathy have remained in contact, with Kathy hiring Beatriz for massage work.
One afternoon, Beatriz drives out to the Newport Beach mansion where Kathy lives with her successful businessman husband Grant (David Warshofsky) to give her a massage in advance of a celebratory dinner party. The sensitive Beatriz breaks down in the middle of the massage while talking about her murdered goat. To add insult to injury, her old VW won’t start, stranding her at Kathy’s.
While waiting for a friend to help her with her car, Beatriz is invited to stay for dinner by Kathy. Shortly thereafter the guests begin to arrive. The first couple is Shannon (Chloë Sevigny) and Alex (Jay Duplass). Alex is responsible for making an especially lucrative business deal go through without much drama. The next pair is Doug (John Lithgow) and Jeana (Amy Landecker). Beatriz, a hugger as well as a healer, connects with Shannon and Jeana.
Right off the bat, however, the perceptive Beatriz intuits that the Trump-like Doug is trouble. Over the course of the evening we learn just how bad Doug is via a combination of Beatriz’s internet research and Doug incriminating himself, whether he’s saying something inappropriate and racist or sharing photos of his kill on an African safari.
After more than a few glasses of wine, Beatriz’s tongue is loosened up. At first, she’s regaling the guests with stories from her life. But before you know it, she’s going after Doug with both barrels. As the night progresses, things go from bad to worse, leading to an unexpectedly tragic finale. The lone DVD special feature is the film’s theatrical trailer. Rating: A-