[Screen It]


(1998) (Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Moderate None None
Mild None None None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
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Heavy Mild Mild Mild Mild

Comedy/Drama: A teen comes of age during the 1970's and must deal with her quirky and unsympathetic male family, her changing body, and her awakening sexuality.
Vivian Abramowitz (NATASHA LYONNE) is a fourteen-year-old girl growing up in the 1970's. She's uncomfortable with the recent changes her body has been undergoing, and she must also deal with the rest of her family -- sixty something divorced dad Murray (ALAN ARKIN), wise- mouthed older brother Ben (DAVID KRUMHOLTZ), and younger wide-eyed brother Rickey (ELY MARIENTHAL) -- none of whom understand what she's going through.

Not only is she embarrassed by her suddenly oversized chest and everyone's attention to it, but she must also contend with the fact that her dirt poor family continually moves from one apartment to the next to stay ahead of landlords but remain in the Beverly Hills school district.

Their luck changes when Murray agrees to watch over his twenty-nine-year-old niece, Rita (MARISA TOMEI), as long as Murray's successful brother, Mickey (CARL REINER), pays for a nice place for them to live. Having just run away from a rehab center and secretly pregnant, Rita quickly becomes a role model for Vivian and welcomes her into the adult world of feminine sexuality. This undoubtably pleases their new drug dealer neighbor, Eliot (KEVIN CORRIGAN), who's equally obsessed with Vivian as he is with Charles Manson.

As the family tries to make sure that Rita remains straight and begins her first year attending nursing school, and Murray hopes to find romance, Vivian attempts to work out her feelings toward her family and her awakened sexuality.

Some teens may be drawn to the story, but it's doubtful most kids will even hear about this film.
For strong sexual situations, nudity, language and drug content.
  • NATASHA LYONNE plays a teenager who's uncomfortable with her changing body and awakening sexuality, but who loses her virginity to her neighbor.
  • ALAN ARKIN plays the family's divorced and mid-sixties father who wants to keep his family in a good school district while also trying to find romance in his life.
  • MARISA TOMEI plays a woman in her late twenties who has just escaped from a rehab center with no direction in her life and is pregnant.
  • DAVID KRUMHOLTZ plays Vivian's older and smart-mouthed brother who spends some of their food money on pot (which he ingests via a bong).
  • KEVIN CORRIGAN plays the pot-selling, Charles Manson obsessed neighbor who has sex with Vivian (despite her only being fourteen).


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    The coming of age genre has long been a favorite among filmmakers simply due to the "pre- loaded" material that inherently comes with such stories. As their bodies, minds, and personalities radically change, the teenage characters in such films undergo confusion, conflict, and quite often many embarrassing moments.

    Filmmakers usually interpret the genre's subject matter in one of two ways. One takes a dramatic approach to telling the story and rarely infuses much humor into the proceedings (such as in the recent "Whatever" and the more adventurous "Stand By Me"), while the other camp thinks it's fodder for a humorous approach (such as with "Sixteen Candles" or "Welcome to the Dollhouse").

    "Slums of Beverly Hills," the feature film debut of writer/director Tamara Jenkins, takes more of the latter approach, although some serious elements are present. From the humorously oxymoronic title to the bevy of idiosyncratic characters that populate the story, Jenkins has taken a reportedly semi-autobiographical look at growing up as a young woman and made it into an occasionally quite funny picture.

    Of course one never thinks of "slums" in the same sentence with "Beverly Hills," but the clever plot device of having the nomadic Abramowitz's moving from one apartment to the next provides for some unique laughs, and also complicates Vivian's life. Not only must she put up with continually moving, but also the peculiarities of coming of age with her non-understanding, all male immediate family and the fact that her chest has expanded at such a rate that she thinks she's deformed.

    Jenkins takes that issue of breast size and runs with it throughout much of the film, but with often mixed results. Vivian's reaction to suddenly having to wear a bra is often funny -- especially in a scene where Murray, perfectly playing the out-of-touch father, makes her wear one under a halter top, leading to a particularly embarrassing fashion faux pas.

    At other times, however, Jenkins takes the material too far, such as when the fourteen-year-old Vivian visits a surgeon about having her breasts surgically reduced. While that may mirror other young women's secret longings, it does little for the movie as a whole.

    In fact, much of the movie follows that pattern where some of the material works and is quite funny, while other bits fall flat. Unfortunately, none of them collectively really add up to anything substantial, and the film ultimately spins its wheels trying to get somewhere, but ends up at about the same place it took off. While it's more clever than a similarly based sitcom, it has that same episodic "slice of life" feel since nothing's ever really resolved. You get the feeling that you'll need to return to later chapters in the story to ever feel any closure regarding it.

    Even so, the unique characters and the performers who inhabit them make up for most of the deficiencies. Natasha Lyonne (who played the daughter in "Krippendorf's Tribe") is perfectly cast as the awkward young girl and delivers a great performance, perfectly capturing the "side effects" created by suddenly coming of age.

    Two-time Oscar nominee Alan Arkin ("The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!," "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" and more recently, "Four Days in September") is also quite good in his role as the father who will do anything to keep his kids in the good school district while staying one step ahead of various landlords.

    The supporting performances are all quite strong. Marisa Tomei ("My Cousin Vinny," "The Paper") plays another ditsy character, but one that's troubled, thus giving her a bit more depth than one would initially expect. David Krumholtz ("The Ice Storm," "The Santa Claus") is funny as the smart aleck older brother, while Kevin Corrigan ("Henry Fool," "Kicked in the Head") is interesting, but his Charles Manson obsession isn't taken far enough to either be very disturbing or funny. Consequently, it feels more like a would-be clever plot gimmick instead of a real characteristic.

    Filled with enough 70's nostalgia -- clips of "Let's Make a Deal" and "H.R. Puffenstuff" -- to either make you wax nostalgic or get queasy, along with a hodgepodge of material that fortunately hits more often than it misses, "Slums of Beverly Hills" isn't a great movie by any means, but is certainly different and amusing enough to earn a passing grade. We give it a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Profanity is heavy with 4 "f" words and an assortment of others. One of the characters is a drug dealer, and in one scene he sells some pot to Vivian's brother who uses it in front of (and with some assistance by) their younger brother.

    Some sexually related encounters occur, and the main character loses her virginity, but we don't see any actual activity. However, we do see some mild petting, along with Vivian using a vibrator, and some nonsexual nudity (bare breasts of different women). Beyond two scenes where forks are stabbed into other people's legs, the remaining categories have little if any major objectionable content.

  • Rita has escaped from some sort of rehab center at the beginning of the story.
  • Eliot tells Vivian that he sells pot for a living, but that he doesn't smoke any because it's bad for the business. Vivian then comments that her brother is a "pothead."
  • Rita pulls out some tiny bottles of liquor and tells Vivian, "Let's celebrate, let's make some cocktails."
  • In a flashback, Murray drinks wine and offers to buy his chef a drink, and both drink shots of liquor.
  • Murray and his date have wine.
  • Ben asks Eliot if he can have a sample of some "weed," and later purchases some from him (which he then inhales from a bong that he gets his younger brother to light for him).
  • On the way to confront the guy that got her pregnant, Rita asks Eliot if he has "anything" to calm her nerves. When he tells her that he only deals in pot, she says that it would make her paranoid.
  • Later, we see several bags of marijuana as Eliot tries to get Vivian to put them inside her underwear so that some approaching cops don't find it on them.
  • We see Rita passed out after having overdosed on something, and Ben returns home carrying a bottle of champagne.
  • Rickey pulls a near mummified and obviously long dead cat from the oven of their new apartment.
  • We see just a tiny bit of blood on Vivian's fingers after she discovers that she just got her period (and later see a tiny spot on a woman's chair).
  • We see Vivian sitting on a toilet and hear the sound of her peeing into a cup (for a urine sample that she later spills onto herself.).
  • We briefly see Rita throw up (after overdosing).
  • A tiny bit of blood is seen on a bandage around Mickey's leg.
  • Murray repeatedly calls an African American waiter "Jackson" to get his service, and Ben reprimands his father for making a racist comment (that his father doesn't believe is racist).
  • Mickey belittles Murray in front of the rest of the family for being poor and always needy.
  • In a flashback, Murray learns that his chef was stealing meat from him.
  • Ben uses some of the kids' food money to buy pot.
  • While comforting each other with a mutual hug, Murray suddenly slides his hand down inside Rita's nightgown and feels her breast (and quickly withdraws and is embarrassed by this).
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Sh*t hole," "F*ck ups," "F*cked up," "Boner" (erection), "Piss," "Popped your cherry" (losing one's virginity), "Choking your chub" (masturbating), "Stacked" (breast comment), "Shut up," "Ball buster," "Bust my balls," "Dingbats," "Pothead," "Bastard," "Fox" (for a woman), "Knocked up" (pregnant), "Creep," and "Screwed up."
  • In two separate scenes, people stab forks into another person's leg.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 4 "f" words, 9 "s" words, 2 slang terms for breasts (the "t" word), 8 hells, 2 damns, 1 ass (used with "hole"), and 6 uses of "G-damn," 5 of "Jesus," 4 of "Oh my God," 3 of "Oh God," 2 of "Jesus Christ," and 1 each of "For Christ's sakes" and "Christ" as exclamations.
  • Referring to Vivian's chest, Murray comments that she got "stacked overnight" and we see a close-up of Vivian's bra-covered breasts. As she bends over and adjusts her breasts in her first bra, we see a lot of cleavage. A saleslady tells her, "You've been blessed. Breasts are wonderful -- you'll see."
  • We briefly see Rita's bare breasts as she opens her robe in the middle of the road to make an approaching truck stop.
  • Ben tells Vivian that it's a woman's body (the "bod") and not her face that counts. He then adds that if a guy says otherwise, he's just "trying to get down in your pants."
  • We see Ben eating dinner on the floor in his underwear and later see him singing a song in the same state of dress (we also see younger brother Rickey in his underwear).
  • We briefly see the side of Rita's breast as she changes clothes in a car.
  • Vivian catches Eliot staring at her chest and asks him if he is, and he says that he's not. She then pulls up her top and we see her bra-covered breasts and she asks him about them and if he wants to feel them. He agrees and we see her take off her bra (still wearing her sweater). He then begins to undo his pants and she stops him, stating that "We're not going to do it in the laundry room. Just breasts. Second base. That's it, not all the way." He then puts his hands up under her sweater and feels her breasts (she looks very awkward) until she makes him stop moments later, commenting that it's just "a building thing" (meaning she's building up to other, later activity).
  • We briefly see Rita's bare breasts while she showers.
  • Ben and Rickey briefly see Rita standing nude in front of them, but we don't see anything.
  • Eliot asks Vivian if she's a virgin (she is) and she responds, "You know how it gets after you do it...it gets weird."
  • Vivian sees Rita pull out her vibrator and asks what it is. Rita replies, "My boyfriend" and then tells Vivian that she can use it. She turns it on and tosses it to Vivian who tosses it back (they do this for a minute or so while dancing to some music during which Vivian briefly holds it like a guy holding an erect penis).
  • Murray's date shows a little bit of cleavage.
  • We learn that Rita is pregnant after Vivian unexpectedly gets her period (as Vivian asks her for some tampons). Later, Murray's date (a middle-aged woman) gives Vivian a huge pad and "menstrual belt" to wear.
  • Murray tells his date that "it's been a long time since I thought about being with a woman." After she says she's only looking for companionship, however, he asks "Does that mean you don't want sex anymore?"
  • Vivian finds Rita's vibrator in the bathroom, turns out the lights, lies on the floor, and turns it on. She then moves it down to her crotch, but we only see the pleasured and surprised reaction on her face.
  • We see part of Eliot's bare butt as the camera passes over his convertible and we see him and Vivian lying there nude (after they've just had sex). When he learns that she was a virgin, he says, "Are you telling me I popped your cherry?" She then comments that she just wanted to do it with a guy, "just to get it over with."
  • We see Rita in her bra and underwear after she's o.d.'ed.
  • While comforting each other with a mutual hug, Murray suddenly slides his hand down inside Rita's nightgown and feels her breast (and quickly withdraws and is embarrassed by this).
  • We see a closeup of the underside of Vivian's breasts as a surgeon marks the areas involved in breast reduction surgery. Moments later, we see a full view of her breasts in a mirror she holds.
  • We see Rita in her bra and underwear in a public bathroom (cleaning her nurse's uniform).
  • Murray, Rita and Eliot smoke a few times, while a few other characters smoke just once.
  • Murray's raising his kids by himself and is divorced from their mother (whom we never see).
  • Rita states that she can't go back to live with her father, and we later see her father belittle Murray, his brother.
  • The changes that puberty brings about (such as Vivian commenting that she's deformed because of the sudden change in her breasts).
  • Who Charles Manson is and what he did.
  • Breast size and breast reduction surgery (what Vivian wants to have at the age of 14).
  • In a flashback, Murray stabs a fork into his chef's leg, but it turns out the man was smuggling meat from the restaurant under his pant and the fork landed in it, and not his leg. He then takes one of the steaks and hits his chef with it.
  • Sensing that things have gotten out of control, Vivian takes a fork and stabs it into her uncle's leg to stop his tirade.

  • Reviewed July 16, 1998

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