Is 'Beatriz at Dinner' a political Rorschach test?

The conflict that rages over a supper in "Beatriz at Dinner" goes far beyond class warfare, left vs. right, Republicans vs. Democrats, even capitalism vs. socialism.

It cuts to the very core of that ethereal quality we call humanity.

This conflict that Beatriz initiates pits selflessness against selfishness, compassion against indifference, kindness against callousness, and generosity against greed.

I cannot imagine how anyone could watch "Beatriz at Dinner" and not have it serve as a verbal Rorschach test for where a person falls on the humanity spectrum.

Granted, the two characters standing in opposition on this spectrum tend to be types rather than real people, but that's OK.

Consider Mike White's clever drama the 21st century version of "My Dinner With Andre" - with shivs.

Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant, now a New-Agey Los Angeles massage therapist and holistic healer given to keeping animals in her small apartment, against the rules.

Beatriz drives an old beater Volkswagen to the oceanside mansion of a longtime client, Cathy (Connie Britton), who loves Beatriz for helping her teen daughter through her arduous chemotherapy.

When her car dies, Beatriz gets invited to stay for dinner with Cathy, her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) and their vapid, upper-class guests, including smug real estate mogul Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), who initially mistakes Beatriz for a servant.

Feeling out of place, Beatriz begins drinking wine and becoming increasingly disturbed by Strutt's proud stories of how he has crushed communities and people to get what he wants. In a moment of alcohol-induced clarity, she wonders: Has she met him before?

The wine suspends Beatriz's inhibitions just enough for the stately dinner to become ground zero for a political showdown, a prescient one written long before the Trump presidency.

"Beatriz at Dinner" comes from the director/writer duo Miguel Arteta and Mike White, who first teamed to make the unusual 2000 stalker romance "Chuck & Buck."

They dodge cheap sentiment and the usual cliches, and extract masterful performances from Hayek as a sensitive saint, and Lithgow as a gentleman bully.

Nonetheless, I disliked the ending to "Beatriz at Dinner," a tacked-on conclusion that detracted from the drama's most powerful, natural closing.

No matter, for Hayek's soulful spirit still prevails.

“Beatriz at Dinner”

★ ★ ★

Starring: Selma Hayek, John Lithgow, Chloë Sevigny, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, David Warshofsky

Directed by: Miguel Arteta

Other: A Roadside Attractions release. Rated R for language, violence. 83 minutes

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