What do we do about the stranger in our midst?
Ralph Neighbor wrote that three types of people inhabit our lives.
There are people people, who are our family and close friends. Then there are service people, who get our laundry at the cleaners or our coffee at Starbucks. Finally, there are landscape people.
These people are all around us, but we do not notice them.
“Beatriz at Dinner” is a story about a service person whom everybody thinks they know but in the end is truly unknown.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a holistic healer and a masseuse. She works in a cancer center but also does massage for a family living in an exclusive gated community.
She goes to give Cathy (Connie Britton) treatment but has car trouble and cannot get anyone to help her until late that night.
Cathy and her husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), are having a dinner party and agree to let Beatriz stay.
The party is for Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and his wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker). It is a celebration of the passing of a bill that will allow Doug’s company do a new land development.
Doug is a big real estate mogul. Also at the party are Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife, Shannon (Chloe Sevigny). Alex lobbied the legislature to get the bill passed.
These rich people just let Beatriz fade into the background. Things get so bad that Doug thinks of her as a part of the wait staff.
And when she sits with them at the meal, her sharing of herself is looked upon with a mixture of disgust and humor.
All of this comes to a head when Beatriz learns who Doug is and how he ran roughshod over many in his gaining of more wealth. Beatriz takes him to task and is banished from the party.
In one telling scene, Cathy looks at Beatriz and says, “It is like I don’t know you.”
To which Beatriz responds, “You don’t know me.”
On the surface, the movie tries to do something that gets very muddled in its execution.
The story focuses on Beatriz trying to find a place where her truth can be told, but the movie ends up in a place that does not seem to make any real sense.
But that does not overshadow the implications for the church.
Beatriz represents those who live outside the church who are strangers to us. She does not follow our norms and does not come to us in the way those who are like us do.
Those who are not like us offer us opportunities of learning and fellowship. Theyare part of God’s presence in the world as we are.
The opportunity of embracing the stranger opens up a chance to discover the divine that all are created with, which would be missed in our dismissal of those who are not like us.
“Beatriz at Dinner” may not be the best movie of the year but it offers a wonderful chance to talk about how we respond to the stranger in our lives.
What do we do with those service people and landscape people who are around us? Can they teach us something that would be otherwise missed because of our dismissal of them?
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: R for language and a scene of violence.
Director: Miguel Arteta.
Writer: Mike White.
Cast: Salma Hayek (Beatriz), Connie Britton (Cathy), John Lithgow (Doug Strutt), Amy Landecker (Jeana), David Warshofsky (Grant), Chloe Sevigny (Shannon), Jay Duplass (Alex).
The movie’s website is here.