Slums of Beverly Hills

G

Slums of Beverly Hills is a marvelous, fresh new coming-of-age comedy-drama, one that breathes fresh new life into the genre. It is also a star-making turn for the extraordinary Natasha Lyonne, who plays Vivian, the teenager in the center of the story.

The movie begins in a lingerie store, with Vivian (Lyonne) trying on her first bra, because according to her father (Alan Arkin) she got “stacked overnight”. Vivian feels really awkward, and being the only female in the family she has noone to lean on during puberty, the time when she most needs support (excuse the pun). And some family she’s in. The title is not symbolic — these people really are the slums of beverly hills — they constantly move from apartment to apartment, while always staying inside the boundaries of Beverly Hills becaus of the good public schools that the city provides. The apartments are usually dumps — until the family decides to take in Vivian’s cousin (Marisa Tomei), so that they can get money from Uncle Mickey for supporting her. But to Vivian, the problem isn’t the constant moving or being forced to share a room. It’s her breasts.

Slums of Beverly Hills is unique because it doesn’t take us into all of the problems of growing up. There is no depression, no suicide, little rebellion. Although at times it may seem a little like it, Slums of Beverly Hills, I think, never looks down on growing up or adolescense. And that’s why I liked it; it handles topics like growing up, life on the move and even social inferiority rather cheerfully and with hope. Also, Lyonne and Arkin turn in magnificent performances; they are both perfectly cast and both succeed in their roles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see much more of Lyonne in the next few years. She has apparent potential to make something of herself in Hollywood.

While the film has some synthetic, one-dimensional supporting characters like that of Vivian’s boyfriend, it also has some very interesting, complex characters like Vivian’s cousin, that keep your eyes glued to the screen. Of course the character is helped out by Marisa Tomei’s beautiful performance.

Slums of Beverly Hills is so good because it’s unique, different from the ordinary coming-of-age movie. It’s an enormously entertaining, upbeat look at the transition between child and adult under unusual circumstances.

-- Eugene Novikov

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