The Slums of Beverly Hills - * * *

The nostalgia wave for the 1970s rolls on, this time in the guise of a coming of age comedy entitled The Slums of Beverly Hills.

The Slums of Beverly Hills follows the path of a destitute family of transients who make their way living in one cheap hotel after another on the outskirts of Beverly Hills during the 70s. Why Beverly Hills, you might ask? Why, for the good schools, of course.

The central character of the film is Vivian Abramowitz (Natasha Lyonne), a teenage girl who is just blossoming into womanhood. Her father, Murray (Alan Arkin), doesn’t quite know what to do with her. So, when his niece Rita (Marisa Tomei) falls into his lap straight out of rehab…it’s a double blessing. Not only does Vivian gain a sympathetic female ear, but Rita’s rich father (Carl Reiner) begins forking over a healthy stipend to Murray for keeping Rita safe and out of trouble.

Adding to Vivian’s confusion is the appearance of her raffish neighbor, Eliot (Kevin Corrigan). She doesn’t quite understand why she finds herself attracted to this Charles Manson-obsessed drug dealer, but she feels compelled to explore her feelings.

The Slums of Beverly Hills rides mostly on the success of Natasha Lyonne’s sharp comic performance. She manages to capture the confusion, embarassment, insecurity and the discoveries of being a teenager with plenty of humor and insight.

Alan Arkin gives a strong supporting performance as a desperate man trying to be a good father to his kids even though he has no ground to stand on. Marisa Tomei is a bit one-note as the drug-addled Rita, and Kevin Corrigan is frankly unappealing as Vivian’s love interest.

The script fumbles a bit when it comes to a few subplots. Vivian’s plastic surgery inquiries never pan out either dramatically or comically. And hints at a more complex relationship between Murray and Rita fizzle out before anything happens.

But, still, The Slums of Beverly Hills is entertaining in the long run, and Natasha Lyonne proves she’s a talent worth watching.

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