Salma Hayek Chloe Sevigny John Lithgow Connie Britton Amy Landecker Jay Duplass Dave Warshofsky
Still waters run deep, and Beatriz (Hayek) is a fascinating combination of a diffident but fearless woman whose passions burst out in full force when she is outraged. After a turbulent childhood in Mexico and losing her family, she has devoted her life to the healing arts, working in a cancer center. She is revered by the mother of one of her teenage patients who is alive and well, and Cathy (Britton) continues to have her come to her elegant home for massages after her daughter has gone to college. Cathy is very gracious, and when Beatriz can’t start her car one day after an appointment, she urges the therapist to stay for dinner. Her husband, Grant (Warshofsky), thinks this is not a good idea for a business dinner, but accedes to her wishes.
What no one realizes is that the evening will be a huge, head-on clash of values and cultures. When the evening starts, it’s a little awkward, with the society women showing their squeamishness about a medical condition and treating it as a gossip item (off-putting for someone working at a cancer center), and incredulous about Beatriz having a pet goat (“Did she say ‘goat’?), but all are trying very hard to be understanding and politically correct.
Unfortunately for the evening, one of the guests, Doug (Lithgow), pushes every button in Beatriz’ psyche. He is dominating, condescending (asks Beatriz to bring him another drink after mistaking her for one of the help, probes her status as an immigrant), boastful about his riches, and openly advocates going for whatever is best for oneself. He is a businessman to the core, and to h--- with anyone (protesters, regulators, environmentalists) standing in his way. He has and will handle them all. This doesn’t sit well with someone who lost her family and her whole town in Mexico when American developers came with empty promises of jobs and wrecked the village and its environment.
One of the things I loved about this story is a humble person being fearless in circumstances where she is among very wealthy people. The art of the creative team of writer (Mike White) and director (Miguel Arteta) here is in taking a neutral stance between two deeply divided sides. We don’t just have empathy for the immigrant health care worker filled with compassion, whose life has been so difficult, we also come away with some understanding and identification with the privileged guests and hosts as well. They’re clearly shown to be trying to do the politically correct thing, and trying to understand what Beatriz stands for and is advocating. [This excludes Doug, whom I saw as a big blow-hard with little capacity for appreciation of anything beyond his self-interest. The most he can do is shake his head in reaction to Beatriz. Despite her confrontation and a tender touch (massaging his tense shoulders, did impress him), nothing she says ever really gets through to him.]
In all this seriousness, there is great comedy. It is the best of comedy, that which has substance underlying it. We chuckle at the words of both Beatriz and Doug; they have a ring of truthfulness in their absurdity. And the ending of the film is truly creative in its loyalty to the gist of the story, its grounding in reality, and its surprise.
Salma Hayek does a bravura performance, with her intense focusing eyes, her engagement with the other characters with different emotional valences, and her range of states of being—at home, meditating, doing therapy, friendliness, encountering strangeness, and experiencing outrage. Supporting actors add to the colorful mix of personalities, and the experienced, talented Lithgow is especially good in counterpoint to Hayek.
Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield follows the story visually to enhance every scene, then he goes into wonderful artistry when he shows a flock of white birds suddenly flying out over a waterway enclosed with greenery and when he gives us an image onscreen of what Beatriz is visualizing when she is fantasizing/meditating toward the end.
An artful film about a clash of cultures and values, but with much appreciated humor.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland