ONE STAR - Demeaning
Although we are completing our fourth year of writing this column on the social and spiritual content of films, this week we went to see a film simply because it had been given top ratings by movie critics. Once again, we experienced the difference in outlook from other movie critics who review the quality of the acting or cinematography of a film and our column which is a commentary on film’s social and spiritual content.
Although “The Slums of Beverly Hills” may be well acted and produced, it is demeaning. It presents a view of humanity which has as its ultimate triumph the ability to loyally support one another in denying reality and responsibility while manipulating, using and degrading virtually every person within the film.
In “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” the story centers on a young teen named Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) whose father Murray (Alan Arkin) is a divorced, gambling-addicted car salesman whose only parental goal seems to be to give his family a Beverly Hills address.
Vivian’s own development is so empty of guidance, and her brothers’ and father’s attitudes are so disrespectful toward women, that she rejects her own body and debases her own sexuality.
Vivian’s older cousin, Rita (Marisa Tomei) is the daughter of Murray’s wealthy, greedy, mean-spirited older brother Mickey (Carl Reiner). Rita’s drug-addiction and out-of-wedlock pregnancy has caused her to flee from a drug-treatment program.
Seeing his opportunity to get his older brother to support him, Murray and Rita strike a deal to get Mickey to pay Murray to provide a home for Rita while she goes to nursing school.
Ultimately everything falls apart as the scam, relationships and apartments disintegrate and the family denies it all once again by moving on.
Throughout the film, there are no persons presented with a moral standard or respect for self or others.
No one raises the question of it being wrong when landlords are cheated of their rent by moving out in the middle of the night, or a boyfriend deals drugs, or a father manipulates his brother for money, or a daughter has sex for the first time just to “get it over with.”
No one seems to notice when the father risks the life of his niece to keep his scam of cheating her father alive. Nor is he confronted when Vivian sees him fondling Rita’s breast.
No one seems to realize the danger of the message when a young teen has a scene using a vibrator as an introduction to the sacred pleasures of her sexuality. Encouraged to do so by her older cousin, this results in further sexual experimentation and the loss of her virginity before she enters high school. No one challenges the message that a sexual toy is a more reliable provider of fulfillment than a committed marriage and there are no happy marriages anywhere in the film.
No one mentions the danger of having an elementary school child bring a bong for his older brother to smoke pot. No one questions a plastic surgeon who is presented as willing to break the law and perform breast reduction surgery on a minor without parental consent.
As these and other degrading scenes are presented, there is not even a hint of a larger morality or a better way to live. The spiritual morass is so debilitating that we felt degraded ourselves for simply observing the film. Human beings are so much more than this film suggests.
Since “The Slums of Beverly Hills” is the debut project by director and writer, Tamara Jenkins, and billed as a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age comedy, it could be argued that Jenkins is presenting a view of life which is so morally bankrupt as to be funny. There does seem to be a genre of such films being presented today, such as “Dead Man on Campus” which makes fun of suicide, or “There’s Something About Mary” which relies on sexual sight gags. All of these films are of the coming-of-age genre and seem to be produced for the teen market.
But our concern is that such films are morally empty and present a degrading view of ourselves and others which influence the next generation of people with whom we share our world. Imagine what life will be like for all of us if the next generation (or any one of us) adopts even a small portion of the abusive attitudes about sex, life, business, or family as presented in these films.