The cast manages to make the whole thing sweet, funny, and raunchy without striking sour notes.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" is a very clever movie. Some of you will be delighted to know it has neither violence, nor rage, nor villain. You should also know that it touches on adolescent sex, breast reduction, and vibrators. This is a genuinely good-natured, R-rated family tale. The Family Abramowitz consists of five eccentric nomads struggling with the problem of maintaining their dignity while living on the run from the bill collectors. Under cover of night, father Murray (Alan Arkin) routs his children out of bed every few weeks to jump the rent. Driving off from the grim "Capri" apartments, 14-year-old daughter Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) looks longingly back at the shabby place she called home for a few weeks.
Her two brothers are far more accepting of the restless existence in cheap apartments "that promise the good life and never deliver." When Dad suggests a pre-dawn steak breakfast, the boys dig into the adventure while Viv sits there weighing the inevitability of her family's lot with no idea of how to improve it.
Arriving at the "Casa Bella," Viv meets new neighbor Eliot (Kevin Corrigan), a drug peddler in a Charles Manson T-shirt who plies his trade with his own peculiar set of high standards. Enter Rita (Marisa Tomei), Uncle Mickey's flamboyant niece, newly and prematurely released from a drug rehab. Murray, ever the schemer, puts the touch on his brother: "I'll take Rita in if you'll support us."
Now we have a thoroughly entertaining gaggle of subplots revolving around Viv's sexual awakening in both high-tech and human modes. Rita, struggling to find something to do in life, "I never thought about that before," becomes Viv's mentor. But it is Viv, who has a clear eye about the right and wrong of things, who tries to help her older cousin find her way.
Murray, determined that his family live without shame in a good school district (a need thoroughly inconsistent with the rest of his thinking), herds his family through life with a comically skewed sense of values. The children, absolutely sure of his love, navigate adolescence on whatever playing field he provides.
If the subject sounds tedious, remember the cast. Alan Arkin, playing Murray Abramowitz in plaid bell-bottoms, manages to make Murray's firm pride in his family and his own fitness perfectly plausible and endearingly comic. Marisa Tomei, in her first meaty role since "My Cousin Vinny," creates a sweet soul turning 30 without a clue as to how to live even her next moment. Natasha Lyonne makes Vivian Alonzo Abramowitz a tender-hearted adolescent whose brain is processing every detail of the human comedy that comes her way. She is outstanding.
Directing her own script with great humor and a rhythm that matches the surprises she springs, Tamara Jenkins has assembled a flawless cast for her inspired tale of this group of wacky characters. The cast manages to make the whole thing sweet, funny, and raunchy without striking sour notes.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Fox Searchlight
Rating : R
Running time : 1h31m
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