Saturday, July 29, 2017

regret it for the rest of our lives

Beatriz at Dinner is a deeply flawed film. It uses intense stares and long silences as if they are the height of characterization, offers up caricatures and simplistic dialogue instead of realistic conversation--which for a film with a heavy-handed Guess Who's Coming to Dinner vibe, is the greatest of cinematic sins. You build your film around dialogue, your dialogue better be amazing. You build your film around character interaction (as opposed to plot), then your characters should all feel real, should all be at least a little likable. Now, to be fair, I think the script (and the casting choices of Hayek and Lithgow) deliberately set up the titular Beatriz to be a bit... off, and Doug to be personable, accepting even of criticism (though mostly because experience would demonstrate that he is above it). This is a story about the 1% having dinner with a nobody, a Mexican-born masseuse and healer.

Assume SPOILERS. Don't assume that this is purely a review. As I've said many a time, I don't write reviews.

The film wants us to root for her, to root for something to happen. It's almost a brilliant commentary on film itself inasmuch as it feels like a buildup to a violent payoff, except it also doesn't. It's just dinner conversation, except you can feel Beatriz' distaste building, and Doug is a horrible person...

Or rather, he's a person who has taken on a horrible life. Having Lithgow humanize the role is a far better choice than Hayek dehumanizing Beatriz because humanizing Doug is useful. Humanizing the villain here makes an important point, even if the film insists with its framing and it's choice of focal point in Beatriz that Doug is part of the problems with the world today and Beatriz is part of the solution. To take the enemy--and I choose that word deliberately--as human affects what you can do to stop them. I mentioned in passing yesterday my dreams of being a revolutionary. And it is just in passing. And it is just a dream. But, damn it if I didn't want Beatriz at Dinner to get... better as it went. To really let the characters respond to Beatriz, for her to respond to them, for some actual conversation and even debate to happen. Instead, she holds it in until she has a speech to make, a story to tell, and they listen then move the fuck on with their polite conversation. Or she holds it in until she lashes out, but then, this is dismissed as her having too much to drink (an excuse, but several reviewers on IMDb seemed to take it more literally). And, at a certain point, I thought the only way the film could really work is if it turned to violence, if Beatriz killed Doug.

And we do get to see that, but only as a fantasy, a cheap turn in the third act that is immediately pulled back. And, amidst my disappointment, I'm wondering how either brilliant or stupid the filmmakers were in denying us that. I eventually leaned more toward stupid, or cowardly, as opposed to that rewind moment in Funny Games--a far greater take on satirizing our viewing of the film as we are viewing it. In that moment, we want the violence, we expect the violence, so it tantalizes us with it than yanks it away, and it works. Here, it feels cheap. It feels like an easy out. Beatriz' suicide that follows instead suggests a hopelessness that the, oddly, the film has not earned. You want to give us superliberal stereotype sits down for dinner with the 1%, you need to give us more. Especially, if you've got people like me in the audience who will buy into a message like violence against that 1% being a viable solution. See, in movies, violence is a solution. Because movies take reality and simplify it. Movies offer up characters despicable even when charming, and we can imagine that their deaths will solve something. But, in the real world, violence begets more violence, violence begets stringent laws and law enforcement, more jackboots, more clearing of land, more resort hotels replacing indigenous villages, more war, more supposedly moral denials of civil rights. And, then what can you do against that? Commit more violence? Terrorize the masses? Protest in the streets? Or shut down, close up, forget that you have a voice because the exercise of it just brings more oppression?

This film tries to say something. It does. But then it fails so spectacularly to follow through.

And it pisses me off. Pisses me off as a movie lover because I want it to be more daring. Pisses me off as a dreamer and a wannabe revolutionary because I want it to be more inspiring.

There is so much wrong with the world today that a movie that dares actually talk about a little of it needs to be good. Needs to be great. It needs to be troubling in a far different way than this one was.

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