Sunday, March 07, 2010

Underrated Movie #49: The Slums of Beverly Hills

Title: Slums of Beverly Hills
Year: 1998
Director: Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)
Writer: Tamara Jenkins
Stars: Natasha Lyonne (American Pie), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Kevin Corrigan (Buffalo ’66)

The Story: A teenage girl in 1976 is hustled from place to place in Beverly Hills by her formerly-well-off father, who’s desperate to keep his family in upscale addresses that he can’t afford. They finally get access to money by taking in their mixed-up niece, who teaches the daughter some untraditional lessons about life and love.

How it Came to be Underrated: It’s virtually impossible for women writer-directors to seize the bullhorn in the aggressive boys’ club that is independent filmmaking. This is partially because marketers don’t know what to do with a film unless it punches you in the gut. Smaller movies like this one too often go under the radar.

Why It’s Great:

  1. This is the sort of laid-back, scruffy comedy that forces you into an older rhythm of movie-watching. It gradually creates a believable and lovable world out of a hundred little right-on details, some that are unique to its kooky setting and some that are universal.
  2. In America, we like to pretend that the poor can get rich. That rarely works out, but everybody does have the right to pretend to be rich, provided they have a little bit of hustle, a willingness to borrow, and a whole lot of self-delusion. Entertainment doesn’t always have to sell fantasies of wish-fulfillment, it can also find comedy and drama in the wreckage that those unrealistic fantasies leaves behind.
  3. Kevin Corrigan once again plays his trademaked lovable loser character but for once he gets to play the “romantic” lead. Actually, he’s only interested in Lyonne for her body, but the movie imagines a crazy alternate world in which bodies aren't especially evil. Can it be possible that not getting overly attached is actually a healthy instinct for a teenage girl? Shock! Horror!
  4. In most coming of age movies, boys seek out sex, while girls seek out love. Sex for girls is merely a monster, and nothing good can come of it, but that’s okay, because good girls don’t want it anyway. Lyonne lacks money, tact and parental guidance, but she’s gifted with an uncanny ability to follow her own mostly-healthy moral compass. It turns out that, despite what we've seen before, some girls can actually trust their own instincts to get them through adolescence.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: It took Jenkins ten years to get another movie made, but she finally found a well-deserved audience her second time out with The Savages.

How Available Is It?: It’s available on a bare-bones dvd.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: They Said I Was Fast!

1 comment:

christinembird said...

F. Scott Fitzgerald said of his family's sequence of homes in the St. Paul MN of his childhood: We always lived on the wrong end of the right street.