Social inequality exists everywhere. But southern California offers its own set of problems. The top 1 percent lives in giant homes that often feature ocean views and plantation-like grounds. As a result, those rich folks usually employ of host of hired hands to help maintain their ginormous mansions and the accompany fields. The people the wealthy employ often live on so little money, they can barely make ends meet.
Beatriz at Dinner, a dark comedy from director Miguel Arteta (Star Maps, Chuck & Buck), shows just how awkward the exchange between rich and poor can be. Written by Mike White, the co-creator, executive producer, writer, director and actor behind the terrific short-lived HBO series, Enlightened, the movie thrives on creating situations so uncomfortable, they'll make you cringe. Despite the fact that the characters sometimes resemble caricatures, the movie's critique of social inequality hits the mark. It opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
The film follows massage therapist Beatriz (Salma Hayek) as she goes about her day. An animal lover who lives with a few dogs and a goat, which she crates in her bedroom thanks to a neighbor who complained about the bleating, Beatriz works at a wellness center where she tries to help children being treated for cancer. It can be emotionally taxing, and she often dreams of her childhood when she rowed a boat along a tranquil river, losing herself in nature.
After work one day, she drives to Orange County, a bastion of wealth even by SoCal standards, to help her friend/client Cathy (Connie Britton) relax before a high-power dinner party. Cathy's husband Grant (David Warshofsky) has invited wealthy developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and his wife Jeana (Amy Landecker) to dinner, so they can celebrate a recent development deal that finally cleared one last legal hurdle so construction can begin.
When Beatriz' car breaks down, Cathy invites her to stay for dinner. She eventually accepts, but, as you can imagine, quickly finds that she has little in common with Grant's friends. In fact, she recalls having seen news reports about just what a union-busting scumbag Doug really is.
Predictably enough, she drinks too much wine and regularly spars with Doug, a blowhard who brags about how wealthy he is while chomping on a cigar. Doug, for example, laughs about how a few rare birds will be displaced by his new development and talks about going big-game hunting in Africa. His demeanor bears a striking similarity to that of President Trump, and more than one reviewer of this Sundance hit has already pointed out that comparison.
Even if the Earth-loving Beatriz and the money-hungry Doug sometimes come off as stereotypes, the movie effectively comments on the growing divide between rich and poor.