Salma Hayek Tackles Polite Society Nightmares, ‘Hope for Humanity’ in ‘Beatriz at Dinner’

Miguel Arteta films takes on wealth, cultural divide in the age of Trump

Is there anything better to watch than a deliciously awkward dinner party spiral into chaos?

Salma Hayek is hoping not, as her emotional and highly entertaining “Beatriz at Dinner” hits theaters on Friday. Directed by Miguel Arteta from a script by Mike White, Hayek stars as a personal masseuse who winds up the unexpected houseguest of her wealthy clients.

The film played well at its Sundance debut in January, the same week Trump took office, thanks to its starkly drawn parallels between the working and upper class — specifically, between the meek masseuse and the arrogant, Warren Buffet-sized mogul she happens to be dining with.

Hayek said she looked for a deeper understanding of characters like her Beatriz — that being compassionate does not always mean you’re a bleeding heart.

“There is a thing people think about courage, that it’s not having fear, that caring about others doesn’t mean that you have no temptation to be selfish, that because you are a pacifist you don’t get angry, ” Hayek told TheWrap.

Over the course of dinner and drinks, Beatriz catches glimpses into the privileged and tone deaf lives of her companions: an ambitious upstart couple (Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny), the mogul and his younger wife (John Lithgow and Amy Landecker) and her monied hosts (the spectacular Connie Britton and David Warshofsky).

But the car trouble that led to Beatriz’s dinner is not the only thing that plagues her. It’s indifference to the environment, apathy for the sick and the poor, cruelty toward animals and a terrifying lack of compassion in a greedy world. But there she sits in a Malibu mansion, sipping wine and nibbling monkfish with gold-plated settings and fresh linen napkins.

“She’s in a place of conflict. She’s sad about the way humanity is shaping up and she’s in crisis,” Hayek said. “It goes beyond being an immigrant; its a hope for humanity.  The crisis [escalates] the more she hears the other people talk and gets to know them better.”

While the film works on deeper levels, it’s also a pleasant horror to watch Beatriz defy phony social customs like small talk, avoiding money, religion and politics and other things your mother told you never to do in public.

“My character has no social graces, no sense of humor and no talent for the chit-chat. But she has a lot of joy and she tries to listen and participate. She also doesn’t have a complex — she doesn’t come with a chip on her shoulder. She knows she’s different but not intimidated by it,” Hayek said.

Without spoiling too much, Hayek and Lithgow’s characters are increasingly at odds, as they share their values (or lack thereof) and world views over the lush evening. It’s eventually revealed they have a past connection over a tragic event in Beatriz’s hometown, and the film fractures into a “magical realism” as the night ends.

“She’s surrounded by powerful, beautiful, well dressed, intelligent rich people but she has her own grace,’ Hayek said.

“I think what eventually happens to her, at this dinner, she realizes that this place she longs for is not a physical place — its a return to innocence and purity,” Hayek concluded.

Roadside Attractions’ “Beatriz at Dinner” is currently in limited release.

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