Do you ever feel uncomfortable at high society functions, standing around with a glass of wine, wondering if you’re holding it right, knowing your scuffed up tennis shoes are painfully conspicuous, feeling as though you don’t belong and should be at home, wearing your ratty old sweater that was knitted by your great-grandmother and drinking from your own jug of Carlo Rossi? Oh, you don’t? Uh, yeah, me neither. I was just asking.
Tonight I saw the film Beatriz at Dinner, which could also be called White People are Insufferable. Beatriz, a massage therapist, unintentionally crashes the shindig at one of her client’s gated mansions after her car won’t start. One aspect of Beatriz’s character that I loved was that although she is out of place at this dinner, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable. On the contrary, the boring, upper-class white people at the party feel uncomfortable around her. Beatriz is interesting and they are not. Beatriz connects on an emotional level, and they’re about as personable as weighty bookends. Beatriz has musical talent, which the other guests are too shallow to appreciate. She ornaments her neck with a dolphin necklace (foreshadowing?) and her car with Buddhist and Christian emblems. These simple decorations give insight into her character. But the fancy clothes and jewelry worn by the others speak to their unremarkable characters.
In conversations between these dullards, which include so many nauseating lines that privileged white people actually use, the superficial guests blend together as one boring mass of uncaring, materialistic, power mongers. The dialogue is fantastic and brought to mind Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe one trick to creating compelling dialogue is to have characters who are incompatible forces of nature: Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois, or in the film I just saw, Doug Strutt and Beatriz, and put them in an uncomfortable scene together.
The unpleasant characters, led by the cringe-worthy Doug Strutt, will be recognizable to most people because they’re typical of the kind of power mongers currently running the country. The men who brag about getting into fights in bars (or theatrical wrestling matches) are the same men who brag about killing animals for sport and are the same men who build hotels and casinos and golf courses just to line their own pockets, cheat vulnerable people, deny climate change is real, and find other ways to destroy the world. The women who are complicit in this bad behavior are just as bad, because they too are driven by power and money and are willing to justify destructive behavior and turn a blind eye.
Beatriz speaks up because she represents goodness. She reminds me of another heroine in a film I love, The Girl in the Café. Both films are a call to action, a demand that we speak up and call out evil when we see it. We all want good to overcome evil, right? Right. Well, Beatriz at Dinner raises the question of whether we’re receptive enough to recognize goodness when surrounded by evil . . . before it’s too late.