Starring Salma Hayek, Chloe Sevigny, John Lithgow, Connie Britton; directed by Miguel Arteta; 83 minutes; R for obscenity and a scene of violence.
Salma Hayek is virtually unrecognizable in "Beatriz at Dinner," a parable in which she plays a massage therapist and healer whose car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client in Southern California, pushing her into an Alice-like plunge through the looking glass of race and class, friendship and professionalism, liberal earnestness and hypocrisy.
As the movie opens, Hayek's title character is praying in front of a shrine with photos of her ancestors and a pet goat, whose demise plays an unlikely role in the day that unfolds. After seeing clients at a cancer clinic, she makes her way to a house call in Newport Beach, where client Cathy (Connie Britton) lives in a sprawling McMansion with her husband, Grant (David Warshofsky).
When Beatriz's car goes on the blink, Cathy insists she attend the dinner party they're throwing to celebrate a real estate deal Grant has struck with developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and young legal eagle Alex (Jay Duplass).
What ensues is an awkward evening that only gets weirder as Beatriz, emboldened by several glasses of wine, confronts the assembled guests with their unexamined privilege and, when it comes to the aptly named Strutt, predatory pursuit of wealth and comfort. In contrast to the brittle, superficial tribe she has infiltrated, Beatriz is a hugger, a deep empath and, when aroused, a fierce teller of truth to power. She's a woman who can't witness injustice or pain without doing something about it, even if only to raise an anguished cry.
"Beatriz at Dinner," written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, is suffused with the same stoic humanism that has characterized their past work together, including "Chuck & Buck" and "The Good Girl." Here, Arteta styles and photographs Hayek to resemble Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc," her limpid eyes and iconlike features taking on the contours of a holy martyr who only grows more enraptured the less she is understood.
As touching as Hayek's performance is, "Beatriz at Dinner" too often forsakes nuance for caricature. It's a delicate, mournful, mystical little movie about the porous membrane that defines all our bubbles, and how tenuous its surface tension can be when severely tested. Once it pops, comedy or tragedy - or maybe clarity - are sure to ensue. In "Beatriz at Dinner," it turns out to be a bit of all three.