Slums of Beverly Hills

Slums of Beverly Hills. Wildwood Enterprises 1998.

Before watching the movie:

This is clearly some kind of culture clash movie, but I’m not sure what kind. My best guess is that the family is trying to continue living in Beverly Hills even as the money is gone. It’s mainly about quirky family dysfunction. Maybe there’s an element of “this is what rich people think rock bottom is”.

After watching the movie:

High school freshman Vivian Abramowitz can’t stand her precocious mammary development or her embarrassing family. Her divorced father Murray keeps moving Vivian and her brothers from one cheap apartment just inside the Beverly Hills neighborhood to another so she and her brothers can go to Beverly Hills schools, always leaving just before getting evicted. Since Murray can’t get anyone to buy cars from him anymore, they’re eking by on money from their rich uncle Mickey, who is getting tired of giving Murray the free ride. Mickey is also tired of trying to manage his adult daughter Rita, who just ran away from a rehab clinic, and Murray sees an opportunity to strike a deal with Mickey and Rita: if Rita stays with Murray’s family and appears to get her life together, Rita gets out from under Mickey’s thumb, and Mickey sends Murray more money for the purpose of supporting Rita’s new leaf. Between Rita’s wild presence and the creepy neighbor boy who dropped out of school to sell dope, Vivian gets her chance to find some answers for herself about what she wants out of life.

The lack of direction apparent in the plotting made me think this might have been based on a memoir or highly personal fiction novel. A thing happens, and then another thing happens, and every scene is modestly absurd and/or relatable, and eventually everything gets to where it’s going, but there doesn’t seem to be much structure hanging the scenes together. It’s just a slice of life piece about being an awkward teenage girl who feels held back by her family.

The 70s setting is apparently keenly felt by many, but maybe I didn’t have that sense because I’m not as familiar with that side of life in the 70s. It’s not glamorous, it’s not gritty, it’s just mundane living on the cusp of the low end of middle class. I kept forgetting it wasn’t an 80s movie set contemporarily, until some especially 70s-style pop culture appears. There’s a minor theme about plastic surgery, which I don’t associate with the 70s, even in the exceptionally rich and beauty-obsessed Beverly Hills area. I think of cosmetic surgery more as a thing of the late 80s and early 90s, but that’s entirely from my sense of pop culture zeitgeist, as I was not a full participant in that time frame.

I was having trouble figuring out what to expect because when I think of financial struggles and rich people problems, I think of “Arrested Development”, a family that’s been fantastically wealthy all their lives and don’t know how to live on a budget when forced to. Instead, this is about poor people working hard to break into the world of the rich people, or at least get close enough to benefit from them. And that’s really just the backdrop for the study of girlhood. Ultimately, while this is certainly a comedy, I was not nearly as entertained as I was enriched by experiencing a different perspective. I may not have had as much fun as I expected, but I had fun while broadening my horizons, which is a decent accomplishment for a movie.

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