Slums of Beverly Hills, The

The Slums of Beverly Hills, written and directed by Tamara Jenkins is
another meditation on family, this time the highly dysfunctional, motherless
Abramowitz family in Southern California in 1976. The patriarch, Murray
Abramowitz (Alan Arkin) is a sometime car salesman but mainly unemployed drifter
who moves his family around from one cheap apartment or motel to the next,
mainly in the dead of night in order to skip out on the rent. The kids want
desperately to be normal and complain about being
Dad tries to jolly them along by taking them to Sizzler steak houses.

To make matters worse for Vivian (Natasha Lyonne), his teenage daughter, she
has recently
and finds herself in need of a brassiere.
like deformed,” she wails. The
saleswoman who measures her confides:
“You have been blessed; breasts are
. You’ll
see.” But
they’re not very wonderful at the
moment, and her two brothers, the older Ben (David Krumholtz) and the younger
Ricky (Eli Marienthal) tease her about them. Her father, shocked by a halter top
tells her, absurdly, to wear her bra with it. Ben has to break it to him:
“The trouble is, Dad: Viv is

The family’s latest move is to Beverly Hills where, Murray says, he is taking
the kids because of the good schools.
“Furniture is temporary; education is
permanent,” he tells them. They move
into a seedy place called Casa Bella that Viv calls a
residence — ”cheap apartments with
fancy names that promise the good life but never deliver.” Their neighbor there
is Elliott Aaronson (Kevin Corrigan). He wears a Charles Manson t-shirt (which,
like his Cadillac, he calls “a
item” ) and has dropped out of high
an option,” he explains to Viv, with
whom he is naturally taken. “I wanted
to join the work force.”

“What do you

“I sell
pot.” Soon he is Viv’s boyfriend.

Murray may be a loser, but there is money in the family and Murray obviously
has a long history of putting the squeeze on his rich brother Mickey (Carl
Reiner). When Mickey’s messed-up,
junkie daughter, Rita (Marissa Tomei), escapes from detox and seeks out her
Uncle Murray on the grounds that the two of them are
“the family
f***-ups,” Murray sees an opportunity
to get more money out of Mickey. He persuades her to take a nursing course and
then persuades Mickey that she stands a better chance of sticking to the
straight and narrow if she lives with his family, as a companion to Viv. Of
course, they would need a “monthly” from him to defray expenses. Mickey coughs
up and they all move across the street to much fancier accommodations. For the
first time in their lives, they begin to feel rich.

Not quite unexpectedly lots goes wrong, rather quickly, with this
arrangement, and the lot of them, Rita now included, are confirmed in their
reputation as f***-ups. “The whole family is
sick,” moans Viv, the spokesman for
normality. “I hate us.
freaks.” But when rich Uncle Mickey
humiliates his brother in front of his children, the children, though a fairly
unprepossessing lot up until then and not so sweet and charming as I think Ms
Jenkins wants to present them as being, rally round the old man and begin to
find something to be said for family ties. Their loyalty to their father is
touching, and the family really is a family instead of being confused with a
gang of friends. And a lot of the jokes are funny. There are worse ways of
spending an evening.

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