Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, 2017. Bron Studios, Killer Films. Screenplay by Mike White. Cinematography by Wyatt Garfield. Produced by Aaron L. Gilbert, David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh. Production Design by Ashley Fenton. Costume Design by Christina Blackaller. Film Editing by Jay Deuby. Independent Spirit Awards 2017.
Salma Hayek is magnificent as a masseuse and healer who drives to Connie Britton‘s mansion to give her a massage before a dinner party and then, when her car won’t start and she needs to wait for repairs, is invited to stay for the night. Awkward is just the beginning of the story considering that the dinner is a work-related evening for Britton’s husband (David Warshofsky), another couple (Jay Duplass, Chloe Sevigny) and the real estate magnate (John Lithgow) who is going to make them all even richer than they already are. Placing a poor Mexican immigrant in the middle of all this rampant privilege means the opportunity for something juicy, particularly considering that Lithgow and his wife (Amy Landecker) have no shame about their indulgences (like big game hunting in Africa) while the last-minute guests’s ability to speak to the house staff is also not without an uncomfortable contradiction. Hayek spends a great deal of the film in extreme close-up and gives a perpetually intelligent and elegant performance despite the fact that screenwriter Mike White has almost as much disdain for her as he does his villainous one-percenters (her character specializes in healing arts that have no actual medical value), while Lithgow gives a lot of grace to a character who is less a person than a series of qualities assembled from all your stupidest friends’ Facebook posts. In fact, apart from the classy cast, everything in this movie is clunky and poorly achieved, from the low-hanging-fruit politics (did you know that rich land developers are bad for the world?) to a plot that threatens to reveal secrets and never does (I know you from somewhere, Hayek keeps telling him, but not enough comes of it). If the film is meant to be director Miguel Arteta’s and writer Mike White’s cynical way of telling us about the fecklessness of trying to combat the destructive realities of modern-day capitalism with the extremes of impractical “snowflake” liberalism, they could have come up with something with more artful subtlety (truly awful rich people don’t talk about how awful and rich they are) or maybe even gone for a little irony (which a badly predictable dream sequence cannot atone for). The themes that really apply to most audiences watching the film, like the fact that middle-class comfort is often the tool used to oppress the discussion of important social issues, or the way that Britton’s character thinks she knows Beatriz without bothering to look beyond her own needs, fail to make their point thanks to how flat the characters are and how little their dialogue accomplishes.