Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

By Eric Jessen 6/23/09

The most consistently funny thing in life is people. Down and Out in Beverly Hills asks me to laugh at people over and over again. Rich people, poor people, dirty people, clean people and one dog. I didn't always laugh out loud but I always smiled. Down and Out in Beverly Hills is based on Jean Renoir's brilliant film Boudu Saved From Drowning. And its biggest achievement in my mind is that after the movie was finished, when I was thinking about what to write, I had completely forgotten about Renoir's film. I feel like I had been making comparisons throughout, but somewhere along the way (probably the party scene, I can't remember a bigger freak show) I completely forgot about Boudu.
There are a lot of characters in this movie and many people to laugh at. There's Nick Nolte as Terry the bum, who's probably the least funny but is somewhat the instigator. There's Richard Dreyfus as Dave Whiteman, an unbelievably rich hanger salesman living in Beverly Hills. He's the kind of rich man who doesn't really need to do anything the rest of his life. When Terry's dog dies he decides to attempt suicide by jumping into Dave's backyard pool. Dave, wanting to be the hero, jumps in the water and saves Terry by giving him CPR. Dave offers to let Terry stay at his house until he gets better, wanting to live vicariously through Terry's impoverished desperation.
There's also Bette Midler as Dave's wife Barbara, who indulges herself by spending money on clothes, and specialists such as a Yogis, decorator, and dog therapist. There's also Carmen(Elizabeth Pena), the salacious housewife Dave is having an affair with. And many others, including a dog named Mattise (played by a dog named Mike) that is particularly impressive with comedic timing. And Little Richard as a persnickety neighbor.
What I liked most about this movie was the relationship between the bum and his captors. With all their wealth they'll never know what desperation or havoc feels like. They think they can find that in Terry. It doesn't matter if he lies, vandalizes, or sleeps with every female house member (all of which he does). The more he tears their once pristine house hold apart, the more they want him to stay. At the end of the movie Terry finally admits “I gave folks what they wanted.”

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