LET'S JUST go ahead and call Beatriz at Dinner "Reclaiming My Time With Salma Hayek." In a role written for her by scripter Mike White, Hayek explores the depths and complexities of holistic medicine practitioner Beatriz with a glowing power.
A massage therapist and healer, Beatriz has brought comfort and healing to numerous cancer patients and clients, absorbing and carrying their pain, her family's pain, the pain of the Mexican hometown she left behind and its residents, the pain of the dying earth and its creatures.
After working wonders for a wealthy family's ill daughter, she gains a new client in the mother, Kathy (Connie Britton), and the two forge a bond.
After a massage session with Kathy in her mansion, Beatriz's car breaks down. Kathy invites her to stay for an elegant dinner party which real estate mogul Doug (John Lithgow), his wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker), Alex (Jay Duplass), and Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) will be attending.
Beatriz at Dinner eases into discomfort as Beatriz begins to gently cross social lines before downing her glass of white wine and charging in full speed ahead.
It's Hayek at her absolute best--without a lick of makeup, carrying sorrow and anger and compassion in her physical stance and emanating it in her delivery. Britton, too, is excellent, posturing sympathy and vouching for Beatriz before falling back deep into class divides and loyalty.
Throughout the film, small doses of magical realism soften the edges of its harsh and timely reality. As predator chases prey and cancer eats away, any shred of tenderness and compassion from a dinner guest is welcome, but often disappoints.
If only we could see that kind of complexity brought to Doug, who is so easy to hate as a corrupt corporate crook. Beatriz at Dinner is truly Hayek's time to rule the screen and elicit cheers from the audience--and it is easily one of the best roles of her career.
But it's a shame to see a one-dimensional role written for an actor like Lithgow, who, as his previous work has demonstrated, is quite capable of bringing a layered wickedness to a character like Doug with a script that allows.