SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS
The year is 1976, and 15-year-old Vivian Abramowitz (Natasha Lyonne) is living on the edge of Beverly Hills with her two brothers, Ben (David Krumholtz), Rickie (Eli Marienthal), and her ageing, divorced father Murray (Alan Arkin), an unsuccessful salesman. Together they move from one cheap apartment to another. In an all-male environment, Vivian is more than a little uncomfortable with her increasing sexual maturity. But when the family's new neighbour, the amiable (if slightly creepy) high-school drop-out Eliot (Kevin Corrigan) takes an interest in her, she's nervously willing to experiment. Then perpetually-stoned cousin Rita (Marisa Tomei), comes to stay, becoming the unlikely female role model that adolescent Vivian needs.
"There is a certain innate quirkiness and inner charm to this odd little film, but
ultimately it's a film that is ultimately both too clever for its own good, and a film
that runs out of steam. On the plus side, Slums is a deft satire on class and social
mobility in the not-so-classless Beverly Hills, and is a very non-judgemental satire. The
film has some wonderful performances, notably the brilliant Alan Arkin, whose
well-observed portrayal of the Jew pretending he's a WASP, is both brave and fascinating.
American cinema often tends to be either self-consciously black, such as the far superior
Opposite of Sex, or incredibly obvious. Slums director Tamara Jenkins tries to have it
both ways here, so the film adopts an uneven style, that gives it a self-consciousness
that is considerably irritating. There's also a somewhat puzzling performance by Marisa
Tomei, who merely proves that her Oscar win several years ago remains one of those eternal
mysteries of life. Slums of Beverly Hills is a film with considerable potential, and
sequences of deliciously sardonic humour, but it's a work that finds it tough to sustain
the energy and quirkiness with which it opens so well."
"With its feeling for lower-class shame and the niggling awfulness of family life, this debut feature could be a first sketch for an American version of Mike Leigh's work. As in Leigh's movies, the characters often resemble over-the-top caricatures; but then real people can seem like caricatures too. Growing up can be like living in a bad sitcom: 'Married With Children' or 'The Nanny.' Stressing poverty and financial dependence, the film uses its '70s period setting to make everything seem outdated and tacky - an ambience summed up by the faux-luxury apartment the family eventually move into, complete with brown shagpile carpet, formica tables and swimming pool. Even there, the kids have to sleep two in a room. 'It stinks in here!' complains little Rickie. 'I have gas,' replies his forthright brother. 'If you don't like it, get out.' In these fetid close quarters, sex blurs with other bodily functions as something gross yet impossible to avoid: there are incessant jokes on topics like vibrators, tampons, and Vivian's obtrusive breasts, putting puberty on embarrassing public display. Broadly comic but rarely lurid or patronising, the film is surprisingly good at balancing bad-taste humour with unsentimental affection for its characters. (Kevin Corrigan is especially endearing as Vivian's blandly droll sort-of boyfriend, an ahead-of-his-time slacker who sells pot 'to support his family.') The overall honesty and absence of smug posturing put this somewhat ahead of the current U.S. 'independent' pack."
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SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (M)
CAST: Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Corrigan, Eli Marienthal, David
Krumholtz, Jessica Walter, Carl Reiner, Rita Moreno
DIRECTOR: Tamara Jenkins
PRODUCER: Michael Nozik, Stan Wlodkowski
SCRIPT: Tamara Jenkins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Richmond
EDITOR: Pamela Martin
MUSIC: Rolfe Kent
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dena Roth
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 29, 1998 (Syd, Melb, Brisb, ACT)