MONTGOMERY COUNTY RECORD
What’s a street person doing in a Beverly Hills mansion? A lot!
Friday, January 31, 1986
I n h i s l a s t f i l m , t h e m a r v e l o u s l y r e n d e r e d “Moscow on the Hudson,” director-writer Paul Mazursky examined the immigrant experience in modern America, painting a heartfelt picture of the struggle to succeed in the so-called land of plenty. But that wonderful work in no way pr epa r ed Ma z u r s ky fans – and I’m certainly one â€” for the hilariously I n s i g h t f ul examination he gives to both the filthy rich and the literally filthy poor in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”
In an era when simplistic projects with one-dlmenslonal heroes and villains dominate f i l m d o m, Mazursky proves that some filmmakers can still provide Insightful entertainment for adults. Quite simply, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” is a marvelously enterta ining social comedy. ( I t ‘s also a bit historic, since the release marks the first R-rated
picture ever financed by Walt Disney Studios.)
Loosely ba s ed on Jean Renoir ‘s “Boudu Sauve Des Eaux” (“Boudu Saved From Drowning”), “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” opens with a penniless drifter, Jerry (Nick Nolte), who has been living out of trashcans and sleeping on the streets for three years, attempting to drown himself in a swimming pool on a property owned by a newly rich, upwardly mobile couple, Dave and Barbara Whiteman (Richard D r e y f u ss a nd B e t te Midler).
Dave, who made his fortune as a hanger manufacturer, saves Jerry and, intrigued by what would drive a person to take such a drastic action, Invites the street person to live in their home until he’s back on his feet. Life for the Whitemans – and the continually ungrateful Jerry – will never be the same.
If America really is the land of plenty, then Beverly Hills is the sea of far too much. Dave and Barbara are practicallyÂ drowning in their excesses.
Their children are sexually confused (their son dresses in androgynous fashions and seems intent on a n n o u n c i ngÂ that he’s gay; their repressed older daughter is about two pounds away from anorexia); the ir sex l i fe t o g e t h er isÂ nonexistent (the wife seeks fulfillment from phony gurus and ’60s fads and the husband hops into the sack with the
housekeeper); their social life is stale (revolving around an obnoxious blend of Investment counselors and shallow professionals); and even their dog has hangups (tended to by a puppy psychiatrist).
Into the midst of this troubl ed f a m i l y, Ma z u r s ky a nd co- s c r ipt er Leon Cape t anos ( w h o a l so h e l p ed w r i te “Moscow on the Hudson” and “Tempest”) t h r u st J e r ry, a r a t h er e x p l o i t a t i ve l i ar (although a thoroughly likeable one) who doesn’t me r e ly bite the hand which feeds him. He rips it off.
B ut t h is s e e m i ng l o s er a p p e a rs to h a v e a ll t he answers, in a combination of world-weariness and thoughtful insights. Things â€” including an ill-fated a f f a ir wi th a c t r e ss Linda Evans (he claims it occurred during her time “between The Big Valley‘ and ‘Dynasty'”) and a relationship with a pet pooch who leaves him for a handout â€” just haven’t gone right for Jerry.
“I knew that bum was trouble,” Midler’s character says in a gross u n d e r s t a t e m e n t. Jerry turns the family upsideÂ down b u t, magically, leaves e v e r y o ne smi l i n g. W h i ch seems fitting, since that’s the way Mazursky also leaves the viewers.
Mazursky camouflages his vicious attack on 1980s materialism by wrapping his insights with twisted humor. Dave feelsÂ “somewhat guilty” for driving a Rolls R o y c e, for exampl e, and the di r e c tor d o e s n ‘t let him off the hook. Dave claims that he wants to get out of the materialistic rat race, but he doesn’t fool anyone, least of all Jerry.
Mazursky selected the cast for “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” with great care, using three troubled talents avoided byÂ o t h er f i l m m a k e r s. Be t te Midler hasn’t worked since her legendary temper tantrums on “Jinxed,” and Dreyfuss hasÂ be en out of the p i c t u re bus iness since his well-recorded bout with cocaine. Nolte, who has a h i s t o ry of
d r i n k i ng problems, has been working, but the results have been less than sterling.
The trio rewards Mazursky’s faith by providing wonderful performances, particularly D r e y f u ss a nd M s. Mi d l e r.
D r e y f u ss pe r f e c t ly c aptur es t he h i g h – p r e s s u r ed g uy trapped in today’s fast-paced bus ine ss r atÂ r a c e, and Ms. Midler brings a detached air as a woman who devlops an “allergy” to having intimate relations with her husband.
Wa lt Di sney mi g ht n ot approve of Mazursky’s social comedy coming from the same studio as “Snow White” andÂ “Pinocchio,” but the generations of moviegoers who grew up wi th Mickey Mouse and now seek adult fare should beÂ g r a t i f i e d. “Down and Out in Beve r ly Hills” Is the up and coming adult hit of 1986.