We were chatting early last week at the New York junket for her new movie “Beatriz at Dinner.” As is standard in the world of Hollywood promotion, I’d been granted a criminally brief 10 minutes with Hayek. She waxed poetic about the melancholic film, and before we knew it, our time together ended.
I was well aware of the Trumpian undertones in “Beatriz at Dinner,” a dark comedy about a Los Angeles massage therapist slash spiritual healer exhausted by life. Beatriz is an immigrant with an abundance of love that the world often doesn’t reciprocate. When her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client (Connie Britton), she’s invited to stay for a meal in honor of a billionaire real-estate tycoon (John Lithgow) whose luxury hotels are causing environmental mayhem in developing countries.
“Please help it,” she said, referring to the movie, as I stood up to leave. “Help us. We’re very small. It’s so strange, also ― we’re going to encounter a lot of pushback from the other side.”
I needn’t ask what she was referring to. Without using the president’s name or referencing real-life politics, “Beatriz at Dinner” indicts Trump’s values. As more guests arrive for the feast, Beatriz feels alone in a sea of money-hungry white faces, some of whom mistake her for the help. The women later mock a female reality star’s body. And in a moment evoking the Minnesota dentist who, in 2015, killed Cecil the lion, the aforementioned tycoon brags about having hunted and killed a rhinoceros for sport. He passes around a photo of the dead animal like it’s a trophy.
“My character, when the movie begins, she’s in despair about how human beings behave and in frustration about where the world is going and the fact that there’s nothing she can do about it, as hard as she has tried all her life,” Hayek said. “Some of the things we have learned to make ourselves interesting and popular socially are kind of sad. Going after another woman collectively like that and enjoying it ― it’s very sad.”
Written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, who are collaborating again after their extraordinary work on “The Good Girl” and HBO’s “Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” features a career-best performance from Hayek. In subtle ways, she telegraphs the complexity of feeling drained amid a clique that not only looks and thinks differently, but seems largely uninterested in her perspective. What starts as a comedy of manners becomes an aching drama about humanity’s segregation, and one of the finest roles of Hayek’s 29-year career.
Despite Hayek’s worries, “Beatriz at Dinner” isn’t likely to receive much Trumpian fuss ― it’s too small of a movie for any real controversy. And anyway, it’s too delicate to piss people off. But it should, at least, spark conversations about the way we treat one another and how to find hope in a world that doesn’t often prioritize equality. As a Mexican actress who has been outspoken about her distaste for the Trump phenomenon, it’s also a personal story.
“I related to this, but I think she’s not even that uncomfortable about being in a room looking different,” she said. “I think this deeper type of loneliness is being alone in a room with people that all think different than her, to the point that she can barely follow what they’re talking about. She’s like, ‘Wait, am I understanding? Is this really what they’re saying?’ And I think so many of us have experienced that.”
“Beatriz at Dinner” is now playing in limited release.