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Slums Of Beverly Hills

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Assuming the age of a first-time feature director to be somewhere in the upper 20s to low 30s, and placing the age of maximum impressionability somewhere in the mid-teens, some simple math would place the formative years of many new directors in the late '70s. That period may represent the last gasp of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll vibe of the '60s, but many movies that tackle those issues are still either exploitation flicks or moralizing after-school specials. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins based much of Slums Of Beverly Hills on her own adolescence, and she goes out of her way to accurately address the dilemmas that many women face as they approach adulthood. Natasha Lyonne is excellent as a young Jewish girl suddenly coming to terms with big breasts, unpredictable periods, and sex in the midst of her wildly dysfunctional family. Surrounded by a loser father (a Willy Loman-esque Alan Arkin), who insists the poor family live in Beverly Hills so the kids can attend the prestigious public schools; a pothead older brother (David Krumholtz); a vibrator-toting, pill-popping cousin (Marisa Tomei); and a leering neighbor (Kevin Corrigan), Lyonne is at a loss for positive role models. Left rudderless just as she's beginning to devise a personal identity, Lyonne must grow up fast and accept the imperfect life she leads. Beneath the sitcom-like surface of Slums lies a realistic coming-of-age story, perfectly cast and effectively acted with just a hint of tragedy.