|SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (1998)|
|Time: 91 mins.|
Natasha Lyonne was one of the only good things about EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU the Woody Allen musical and the same goes for this film. She has an exuberance and charm onscreen that young actresses rarely show these days. It's obvious she loves what she's doing and it's infectious.
THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS is a comic, coming-of-age tale, that takes place in the 70s, about the life of a 13-year-old girl (Lyonne) and her nomadic family as they try to eke out a living in Beverly Hills. Her father (Alan Arkin) is a down-on-his-luck car salesman who's never been able to make enough money to support his family, but refuses to live outside Beverly Hills because he wants them to get the best education possible.
Since her parents are divorced, Vivian has no female role model to help her with her transition into womanhood. Constantly worried about her father and her ever-expanding bust size, she is forced into adulthood faster than she would like. She finally gets another female in the house when her pill-addicted cousin Rita (Marisa Tomei) comes to stay with them. Rita's father promises to pay for her support and nursing school, which enables the family to get a much nicer apartment with real furniture and separate bedrooms.
Since her body has forced her into womanhood, Vivian decides to pursue the opposite sex even though she has no idea how she should behave or what to expect. Rita, who's grip on reality is incredibly tenuous, tries to help by offering Vivian her "boyfriend" a giant vibrator. This scene is hysterical as they play hot potato and dance with it to the strains of "We Got the Funk". Vivian's curiosity gets the better of her and she begins to find out what adult pleasure is all about.
Of course, things take a turn for the worse when Rita is unable to cope with the pressures of nursing school and the fact that she's pregnant. It's Vivian's job to make sure Rita stays off the pills and in class, but she's in search of knowledge herself in the form of a tryst with a boy from her old building. Rita crashes and the family is forced to put on a show for her parents trying to convince them that everything is A-OK. Things don't go as planned and the family ends up on the road again in search of that perfect, crummy, cheap Beverly Hills hideaway.
Besides Lyonne, Arkin and Tomei put in memorable performances as two people who will never have their shit together, but always hope for the best. Lyonne is the star of this film and as long as she's onscreen it works. When she's not, the film just loses it's pizazz. Thankfully, she's never absent long. This a comedy that occasionally walks the line of good taste and it's a funny thing when it does.