Review: Down and Out In Beverly Hills

Directed by: Paul Mazursky
Written by: Paul Mazurksy
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte
Released: 1986 / Genre: Comedy-Drama / Country: USA / IMDB
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See Also: Top 10 Richard Dreyfuss Films

Rich married couple Dave and Barbara Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler) live the life of luxury at their expensive mansion in the heart of Beverly Hills. However they aren’t very happy, with Barbara obsessed with herself, and Dave obsessed with his work, while having an affair with the maid. Their kids are also causing them concern with daughter Jenny refusing to eat properly, and son Max obsessed with the obscure. One day, homeless man Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) tries to drown himself in the Whiteman’s pool, and Dave saves him. Welcoming him into their home against Barbara’s better wishes, Jerry begins to have an effect on all the people of the household, at times for the better, at other times for the worst.

Paul Mazursky who wrote, directed and produced the film, creates a tidy little movie that satirically looks at the world of the rich living in Beverly Hills. While the satire runs throughout the film, the comedy is sometimes lacking which leaves the film dragging in places. He doesn’t get the most out of his actors, especially Nolte and Dreyfuss, favouring the idea of the script’s power off the page rather than the actor’s ability to bring it to life.

down and out in beverly hills, film, richard dreyfuss, nick nolte,

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The satire is nicely served and Mazursky makes sure every character has a place and purpose in his critique. We see in Nolte’s character, the ‘bum’, the man off the street, that while he seems to be poor and living a very sad, and lonely life he has in fact been, and done, so much more than Dreyfuss’ rich and successful businessman. While Dave Whiteman struggles with his riches, Jerry Baskin prospers from not having anything other than the clothes on his back. The ‘bum’ is in fact a much happier person than the rich guy.

The son is obsessed with all that is obscure. Refusing to fit into social norms, he is fueled by the media and pop culture. If that wasn’t enough, he goes round filming his family sitting down to have a meal, or him having a conversation with his father, or anything else that happens through the day. It is as if Mazursky is trying to say that life in Beverly Hills is either lived as if it were constantly in front of a camera, or that the idea of being on show to the public governs their obsession with image. Image is a strong message in the film, as the daughter refuses to eat properly, infatuated with the ‘super model’ thin look seen on those women that strut their stuff on the catwalk week in and week out. Mazursky pushes it to the extreme – the next-door neighbour and Dave both stop at a traffic light. The camera pans out to reveal they both have gleaming Rolls Royce’s with their names on the number plate. It’s as if these people are so within themselves they see the bigger picture but they refuse to believe it, as Dave asks his daughter if she likes his new car, ‘It’s not too Beverly Hills?’ he says.

The performances in the film are solid with Bette Midler getting most of the plaudits. She gives the wife a bitter neurotic edge, questioning all the things her over-privileged life has shut her away from. Richard Dreyfuss is also good in fits and starts. He seems at home with the more physical scenes – a brilliantly comic sex scene with the maid is a good example, but the more toned down scenes find him on autopilot. Little Richard, as the rich next-door neighbour is wonderfully funny as he spouts off about racial conspiracies and the fact that if he called the police he’d get one cop, while the white guy gets twenty cops, attack dogs and a helicopter. Nick Nolte is fairly bland however, not showing any real charisma with his dry, short sentences becoming more boring to hear as the film goes on.

All in all, Down And Out In Beverly Hills is a good satire on the rich people of Beverly Hills, however, its comedy comes in fits and starts and is never sustained, and the actors aren’t used to their full potential but Mazursky’s film retains an energy and quirky tone throughout, leaving plenty to enjoy.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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