Slums of Beverly Hills

on August 14, 1998 by Lael Loewenstein
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   An engaging coming-of-age comedy from first-time director Tamara Jenkins, "Slums of Beverly Hills" features solid performances and surprisingly deft direction. Set in 1976, the story follows the Abromowitz family, comprised of father Martin (Alan Arkin), daughter Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) and her brothers Rickey (Eli Marienthal) and Ben (David Krumholtz). The poorest denizens of L.A.'s richest district, they live in Beverly Hills to benefit from the zip code and the prestige it permits them, but move nomadically from one dumpy apartment to another. When Martin's unbalanced niece Rita (Marisa Tomei) drops in having escaped a rehab clinic, he agrees to take her in provided his wealthy brother (Carl Reiner) will pay her expenses. That extra income allows the Abromowitzes to move again, this time to their first decent apartment, replete with orange shag carpeting. But their security is threatened, and it's not long before the family loses its brief tenure as members of the middle class.
   Jenkins does an especially fine job handling awkward social and sexual situations and playing them for laughs--whether it's Vivian's menstrual spotting on the pristine antique chair owned by an uppity society woman (Jessica Walter) her father is courting, her experiments with her cousin Rita's vibrator, or her invitation to her drug-dealing neighbor (Kevin Corrigan) to cop a feel. The writer-director has a good ear for dialogue and has done a notable job here fleshing out the characters and adding intriguing quirks. Some scenes go on longer than necessary, and ultimately it's all a bit predictable-the cyclical story more or less ends where it begins--but it's nevertheless a charming and delightful romp, with keen observations about character, time and place.    Starring Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Corrigan. Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. Produced by Michael Nozik and Stan Wlodkowski. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Rated R for strong sexual situations, nudity, language and drug content. Running time: 95 min.
Tags: Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Corrigan, Tamara Jenkins. Produced by Michael Nozik and Stan Wlodkowski. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy
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