Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, "Slums of Beverly Hills" is an autobiographical account of her bizarre teenage years spent as a "nomad of divorce" on the fringes of Beverly Hills. Eighteen-year-old Natasha Lyonne plays Vivian Abromowitz, a 14-year-old who, seemingly overnight, has grown full breasts. As the only female in the family, her father and brothers can't let her budding body develop without comment, much to her constant humiliation.
The year is 1976 and Viv's father, Murray, played by the great Alan Arkin, is determined to keep his kids in the 90210 area code, even if it means abruptly moving them from one shabby motel to the next in the middle of the night to avoid paying rent. Why? The high-quality schools; as he says, "Furniture is temporary, education is forever." Strangely enough, the film takes place during the summer so we never see what school might've been like for just such a pack of fringe-dwellers.
Freckle-faced Viv may be new to her own sexuality but she's not naÔve. When she casually invites neighbor and freelance pot salesman, Elliot, played by the sublime Kevin Corrigan, to feel her up, she assures him not to make too much of it. "It's just a building thing," she says, with unemotional detachment.
Things look up when her cousin, Rita, escapes from drug rehab and comes to live with them. Played with a certain wacky sadness, Marisa Tomei's character is a 29-year-old wash-up that nonetheless arrives in time to provide much-needed female company to Viv.
The film begins with Viv narrating over a black-and-white quote from Tolstoy: "Happy families are all the same but unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way." It is this theme that Jenkins never strays from as she displays her non-traditional past with a distinct rag-tag pride. Her father is far from perfect but he is there and fights to keep them together even if it means begging from his insensitive older brother, Mickey, played by Carl Reiner.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" is a strong film due to its' casual boldness; it is flippantly unshy about showing the unattractive side of life - the shag carpet, a dead cat in the oven, ugly, sensible bras, period blood and the unabashed sight of Viv's older brother, Ben, (played gamely by David Krumholz) singing "Luck Be A Lady" wearing nothing but tube socks and tighty-whities. Life isn't always pretty but it is entertaining.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 9/2/98
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