Friday, January 1, 2010

Slums of Beverly Hills (Tamara Jenkins, 1998)

Recreating the freewheeling spirit of July, 1976 on a modest budget might sound like a lot work. But when you're dealing with a specific Los Angeles County zip code where nothing changes, the odds of making a quasi-realistic film about growing up middle class in the cities' most affluent community become a whole lot greater. Sporting no distinguishable characteristics whatsoever, this seemingly stagnant society, combined with the inherent blandness of the year in which it was filmed, is ready-made for the disco era. Proving that all you need is a couple of period specific vehicles (the bigger, the better), a couple of pairs of platform shoes, and some strategically placed Parliament jams on the soundtrack, Slums of Beverly Hills is a refreshing, appallingly precise coming-of-age tale about a nomadic family struggling to make ends meet in one of the world's most affluent neighbourhoods. Okay, it's not that "precise." I mean, the presence of Kevin Corrigan (Buffalo '66), for instance, does give the film a mild late '90s stench. But other than that, the film does paint a pretty accurate portrait of what it must been like to be a teenage girl with body issues during those heady days when kids could, without fear, openly watch H.R. PufnStuf while eating Trix in nothing but an expertly laundered pair of tighty whities.

For some strange reason, I've always dismissed this film as the one where Marisa Tomei does a lot of drugs while scantily clad. Why I once dismissed this film on those particular grounds, I'll never know. Seriously, what kind of jackass dismisses something because Marisa Tomei is constantly high and naked? It borders on being extremely stupid. I guess my chakras were not properly aligned back when I thought those thoughts.

Still, that doesn't justify the pure wrongheadedness of the above paragraph's opening sentence. In fact, that doesn't even sound like me. Who the fuck wrote that? It makes me come off as the type of person who doesn't like watching attractive women overdose in their underwear. And believe me, I'm not that type of person. Anyway, I think I'll wrap this section up by making one coherent point, and that is: Marisa Tomei gives a wonderfully unhinged performance as a flaky woman heading in no particular direction.

Blessed with the gangliest, juiciest, most jaunty legs ever to dangle from a pair of jean shorts, Natasha Lyonne (Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby) is a beautifully awkward mess as Vivian Abromowitz, the lone female member of the wandering Abromowitz clan. Alarmed by the changes that are occurring to her body (she just got breasts), Natasha's trademark indifference and deadpan delivering are perfectly implemented in this deftly funny comedy about a somewhat dysfunctional family who moves from one dingy Beverly Hills apartment complex to another a semi-regular basis.

Whether staring blankly out the back window of a moving car or appearing bored while being felt up by a pot-dealing miscreant in a Charles Manson t-shirt (a piece of clothing he seems to wear everyday), the alluring Natasha will melt the hearts of those who have an appreciation for lopsided femininity.

The aforementioned molestation scene, the bedroom vibrator toss set to "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)," and the usage of said vibrator were definitely highlights in terms of getting conventional Lyonne-based satisfaction. However, since I'm not about extolling the virtues of the obvious, I must say, the simple image of Natasha sitting on the floor watching television with her family is what sent my senses into overdrive.

Maybe it was the inadvertently seductive way the can of TAB she was holding perfectly matched her skin and ensemble, or the manner in which the elastic of her knee-high sport socks tightly gripped the smooth surface of her lithesome calf muscles. Either way, the simple act of lounging on shag carpeting solidified my positive feelings toward Natasha's character and the film in general.

The always welcome sight of David Krumholtz singing show tunes in his underwear and the unique voice of Alan Arkin make up the male contingent of Slums of the Beverly Hills. The former, playing the most well-balanced member of the Abromowitz family, isn't given much to do beyond the underwear scene and a couple of nicely placed comments of a snarky nature. The gifted Mr. Arkin, on the other hand, is given a lot to do as the aimless father determined to keep his kids in the Beverly Hills school district, in other words, away from Torrance.

The reason I keep mentioning undergarments is because they play an integral role in this film. Hell, even a menstrual belt is employed at one point in the film. At any rate, I think underwear is essential. Not only in regards to this film, but in an overall kind of way, especially when it comes to having clothes on under the clothes you're already wearing.

A wee Mena Suvari appears briefly as a girl with a recently corrected deviated septum. The nose bandage she wears threw me off at first, but I could tell it was her.

video uploaded by depplover63


  1. One can always spot Mena Suvari- it's the forehead that gives her away. But I guess some bangs could disguise her.

    I'm glad you devoted so much time to Natasha Lyonne- I have been quite a fan since her goody two-shoes lesbian role in But I'm A Cheerleader. I always find her so charming!

  2. This is one of those movies I think I've seen but forgotten everything about. Perhaps the advertising for it saturated into my brain.

  3. Alex: You're right, her forehead is a dead giveaway. I guess the nose bandage briefly clouded my Mena judgment.

    I always try to make a point of giving Natasha her due.

    Looking forward to seeing her in "All About Evil."

    John: I'm totally down with ad-induced brain saturation.

    Speaking of which, I'm in desperate need of a Snuggie right now. Brrr.

  4. I can't say I've ever been interested in seeing this movie, but 1) my sister loves it, and 2) I love Jenkins' follow-up, The Savages. So never say never.

    You have Snuggies up in Canadaland?!?

  5. 3) David Krumholtz sings show tunes in his underwear.

    Snuggies are laced with maple syrup in Canada.

    What I need is a sweater with sleeves. These twenty year-old band t-shirts aren't giving me the warmth I need.

    A.O. Scott put Funny People on his top ten. WTF, man? ;)

  6. I love Natasha Lyonne in this film and I know she's had her share of personal problems but I hope she gets her act together and cranks out some more films.

    Plus, any film with Kevin Corrigan AND David Krumholtz is OK by me. Love both of these guys. Plus, it was kinda cool to see Carl Reiner playing such a dick. The dinner scene where they have the big family blow out is uncomfortable in a good way.

  7. According to IMDb, Natasha has three completed films and one in post-production on tap for 2010.

    I'm a big fan of Krumholtz and Corrigan as well.