Beatriz at Dinner

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Beatriz at Dinner

Beatriz at Dinner may not be perfect but it is rare and powerful in an unusual way and well worth seeing. Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a multidimensional physical and emotional healer from Mexico with medical training and a great big heart. She has driven north to a gated mansion in Newport Beach to massage the grateful mother of a former patient. When her car refuses to start as she leaves, Cathy (Connie Britton) summons a tow truck and invites Beatriz to stay for dinner with the arriving guests.

That’s our invitation to a culture clash that is by turns horrific, funny, and tense. Three couples – the wives dressed in perfect high heels and silk, the husbands in immaculate business suits – and Beatriz in blue jeans and an old shirt. Two couples are indebted for their lifestyles to Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a powerful real estate magnate who delights in recounting his African hunting adventures. Beatriz, who respects all life whether it is human or animal, is stunned and lashes out.

The dinner had begun as a typical upper level social gathering with conversation rooted in travel stories and random incidentals – anything as long as it never leads to an exchange of ideas or serious talk of any kind. The clothes, the stories, and the experiences are just another subtle form of competition.

When Beatriz’s anger at Doug’s killing of an animal turns openly raw, the others cringe and puncture the silent embarrassment with a few labored comments here and there. But the battle is joined. Doug and Beatriz are front and center in a battle over nothing less than the value of life itself while the others sit in mortified silence. Beatriz erupts, “Doug, try healing something; destroy the source of the suffering.”

Writer Mike White has written a script full of unexpected words and actions and director Miguel Arteta has made sure it is all filmed with appropriate subtlety. In an age when wealth equals permission, Salma Hayek builds a case for a social code rooted in kindness and caring. When she is most upset, she turns Beatriz to stone and the film takes an unexpected turn.

John Lithgow does the nearly impossible in creating the real estate tycoon. Although he exercises his right to do and say things a rich successful businessman can do in a culture where money is king, he endows Doug Strutt with one quality that draws our interest. He listens to Beatriz and actually hears her. The man who dismissed her as a maid on first sight learns she is both smart and wise.

Writer, director, and the two lead actors carry the action throughout while their supporting players are fine at creating the grim essence of dinner conversation among men who have succeeded financially and the women who play the supporting roles in life and in the film. Watching Hayek and Lithgow tower above them in anger and despair is a movie lover’s dream.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Beatriz at Dinner
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:23
Rating : R
Date : June 25, 2017

 

This review was posted on June 25, 2017, in Comedy.

Maudie

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Maudie

Maudie is a beautiful piece of art that offers the perfect alternative to summer blockbusters. Director Aisling Walsh took elements from the work of writer Sherry White and stirred them gently until the whole quite literally silenced the theater. The elements: two astonishing performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, stunning photography of the empty countryside, and the deep sensitivity of director Walsh.

Sally Hawkins’ Maude is a woman in her mid-thirties who carries the physical effects of early onset arthritis and an early childhood illness that left her with a stooped posture. Fragile she may be, but she is otherwise sharp, shy, and uncommonly stubborn. Her brother (Zachary Bennett) has left her in the care of her poisonous Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Desperate to escape, Maud presents herself at the ramshackle house of fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) in answer to his advertisement for a maid.

Their prickly relationship develops through ups and downs as Maud paints pictures of all the bits of nature she sees on her walks. Her flowers will cover the walls, the stair risers, mirrors and all paintable surfaces in their house. In a relationship rooted in need, neither is willing to change. He gives her shelter and she keeps it clean. She has the freedom to paint the world around her as she sees it. He has a clean house and the uncluttered time to sell fish and firewood.

The needy couple walks separately and sometimes together along miles of a dirt road to town for the few supplies they can afford. It is then that director Walsh works more magic. The two on that endless road are small dots against the majesty of the landscape (Nova Scotia, but filmed in Newfoundland). Walsh’s camera teaches us quietly that no one in this area has money or material things. The glory of the landscape is not theirs to enjoy but to survive. With her silent camera, she captures the stark nature of their relationship along with the poverty imposed by the vast landscape. She never teaches. She simply gives us the beauty of the story in the quietest way. We are watching the power of serious creativity.

When Maud’s paintings begin to sell while Everett takes over a bit of her housework, she says quietly: “we’re like a pair of old socks.” In the simplicity of their surroundings, the only change will be the tenderness that creeps into their lives. Otherwise nothing changes the fact that they deal in basic necessities and with whatever lies unexpressed in their heads on those long, long walks. Maud sees the golds, reds, and whites that will become her flower paintings, Everett can’t say anything right, but we know he has mellowed just a little.

We watch two fine actors who absorbed all the subtleties used by their director. Together the three took us to a faraway place both physically and emotionally, and it’s a place we will all remember.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Maudie
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:55
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 18, 2017