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IN SHORT: Good first effort, seriously aimed at teengirls.
What do you get when you add ...
Cranky got to learn more about teenage womanhood than any guy has need to know in The Slums of Beverly Hills, a story inspired by the childhood of first time writer/director Tamara Jenkins.
Slums doesn't present the kind of tale that Cranky yearns to see (I did the whole 70s teenage/ divorce thing but was thankfully a freshman college when it went down and don't want to relive anything even close to that hellish existence). The negative is that the film's obsession with breast size, biological functions and sex toys overshadows a pretty good script about a poor Jewish family looking for the gold in the streets of Beverly Hills. The good side is that there is enough humor in the script that the men in the audience will have something to laugh at, as teen Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) begins her descent into what will probably be a life of Jewish neuroses. The women in the audience will reminisce quite differently.
Murray Abramowitz (Alan Arkin -- Adam's dad) is the divorced father; a car salesman in the midst of a 1970s big car glut. His sole goal in life is to raise his kids inside the boundaries of the Beverly Hills school district. That means the family must move from dump to dump in the middle of the night to avoid paying rent. Younger brother Ricky (Eli Marienthal) calls this "an adventure." Vivian calls it "running away like crooks."
Third kid is the firstborn, Ben (David Krumholtz), a pothead who fancies himself a song and dance man. Ben will serenade you with a lovely version "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" (from Guys and Dolls) while in his underpants. Eliot (Kevin Corrigan), the boy next door high school dropout dope dealer is into Charles Manson, but's it's "OK 'cuz I'm Jewish too." Vivian, object of Eliot's affection, runs around in a shortie, and there are enough body- double breasts in the flick to keep the teenboys interested. But that's not the point of this flick.
The point is survival. The mode comes in the guise of rehabbed cousin Rita (Marisa Tomei) who shares her secrets with Viv in a gobbledygook made-up language. In exchange for keeping an eye on his niece, Arkin arranges for a humiliating, monthly payment from older brother Mickey (Carl Reiner), to keep the girl straight. For Murray, it's about family, period. For Viv, it's also bonding ritual that introduces her to the joys of battery operated vibrators and urine tests.
All the pride and determination that goes with being MOT is present in this movie, and it carefully tries to avoid stereotype. Dad wants his kids to do better than he; whatever it takes, his kids are going to be better off than he. "Education is forever," he says, echoing everything Cranky heard from his parents and grandparents during his adolescence. The kids behave just the way teens in the 70s did (I was there). Lyonne's worldly facial expression, akin to "what am I doing on this planet," while she tries to hold herself is a marvel.
Slums of Beverly Hills is a fine first effort. Not to Cranky's taste, but not arthouse / film student impossible to sit through. It isn't enough of a compelling story that you must run out to see it, but the characters are well developed and the actors, especially Tomei and Arkin, all deliver good performances. You'll walk away feeling sympathy for the Abramowitz family of Beverly Hills.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Slums of Beverly Hills, he would have paid . . .
Add a couple of bucks if you're a teen femme who can sympathize with an earlier generation's mirror of your life, or if you're an elder who wants to relieve teen nightmares. This is one you could wait for PPV-TV on, 'cuz the subject matter, with emphasis on drugs and sex, doesn't lend itself to the free TV.
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