Slums Of Beverly Hills

1998, Movie, R, 91 mins


Uneven but filled with flashes of painful insight into the pitfalls awaiting adolescent girls -- particularly girls adrift in floundering families -- this darkly comic look at life on the fringes of California's most glamorous ZIP code boasts a phenomenal performance from youthful Natasha Lyonne. Fifteen-year-old Viv Abramowitz's (Lyonne) figure is busting out all over and she's utterly mortified, particularly since she and her all-male family -- dad Murray (Alan Arkin), college-bound brother Ben (David Krumholtz) and little brother Rickey (Eli Marienthal) -- live a nomadic existence defined by cramped hotel rooms and tacky, too-small apartments. Divorced and perpetually on the run from creditors, 65-year-old ne'er-do-well Murray has been relying on the kindness of older brother Mickey (Carl Reiner) for as long as anyone can remember, and Mickey makes sure no one ever forgets. Murray's determined to stay in Beverly Hills for the schools ("Furniture is temporary," he counsels his materialistic brood, "Education is forever.") And his new plan to score better digs involves Mickey's wayward daughter Rita (Marisa Tomei), fresh out of rehab and drifting aimlessly. Murray takes in Rita and promises to keep her in nursing school, as long as Mickey pays the Abramowitz family's rent at the posh Camelot Apartments. Set in 1976 for no apparent reason except that that's when writer-director Tamara Jenkins was a tortured teen, the film flawlessly captures the directionless alienation of youngsters whose families are in no shape to guide them through the turbulence of their teenage years. It's sharply observed and occasionally very funny -- Viv and Rita's spontaneous disco dance, in which an insistently buzzing vibrator makes three -- is a small masterpiece. But it peters out rather than ending, apparently because it -- like Viv -- can't quite figure out where it's going. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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