Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Slums of Beverly Hills


In 2013 Natasha Lyonne became well known for her role as Nicky Nichols, one of the inmates in the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. She got her start at age seven as one of the moppets on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and then landed a series of minor roles until this movie came along, where she got top billing over Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei. As she should have; she is at the center of the story.

Arkin is a 65-year-old loser with three children, ages around eight, fifteen, and seventeen. He’s a car salesman who doesn’t make enough money to stay in an apartment more than a month or two before they all have to sneak off in the middle of the night. There really are slums in Beverly Hills … relatively speaking, of course. South of Santa Monica Boulevard there are some neighborhoods with totally undistinguished apartment buildings virtually identical to the low-rent areas of East Hollywood. And Dad is adamant that they stay in 90212 or 90211 so the kids can go to the same schools the ritzy 90210 kids go to.

It is 1976, and Vivian is the middle child, the fifteen-year-old (she was actually twenty). It’s a difficult age. She is having trouble coming to terms with her new adult body, particularly the aggressive and perfect C-cup breasts that have mushroomed overnight. At one point she even visits a plastic surgeon, who is a bit bemused that she wants the breasts reduced. The family picks up Marisa Tomei, their troubled cousin, when she runs away from a mental hospital, which means that Arkin’s brother will chip in extra money so his daughter can go to nursing school. The brother (Rob Reiner, really getting in touch with his inner asshole) has been pretty much supporting the family for a long time, but now he’s giving them enough money to move into a really nice apartment for the first time.

It’s a gentle comedy. You know the cousin won’t get anywhere in nursing school, she’s way too fucked up for that. And when the prick brother cuts them off, it’s no surprise that they find themselves back in the old family gas-guzzler, prowling the cheap zips of BH, looking for another rat-hole to rent. But it’s not too sad. They have each other. Nice little movie. Rita Moreno, one of my favorite actresses, has a small role as Reiner’s wife.