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"Down and Out in Beverly Hills" is a very funny 1986 comedy from director
Paul Mazursky. Nick Nolte stars as a down-and-out bum who one day, after his
dog leaves him and goes to live somewhere else, tries to drown himself in
the swimming pool of a rich couple. The man of the house (played
delightfully by Richard Dreyfuss) saves his live and decides to take him in
despite the objections of his wife (played wonderfully by Bette Midler). The
bum becomes an influence over everybody in the household. Plus, their dog
starts to love the bum. There are big laughs throughout the film, though the
movie is a little less funny than Bette Midler's other 1986 comedy "Ruthless
People". Still, "Down and Out" has some terrific performances from Midler,
Dreyfuss, Nolte, and the rest of the supporting cast. But the real
scene-stealer here is the performance by Mike the Dog as Matisse, the canine
with a dog psychiatrist. Mike gives one of the best performances by an
animal of all-time.
***1/2 (out of four)
DOWN & OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS is a smart American remake of the French film BONDU SAVED FROM DROWNING updated to modern day Beverly Hills. In this version, a homeless man accidentally wanders onto the property of a wealthy Beverly Hills family and tries to drown himself in their pool. Upon rescue, the family takes pity on him and take him in but the bum gets a little too comfortable and begins biting the hand that feeds him (in more ways than one). Nick Nolte gives a rock solid performance as Jerry, the homeless bum who ends up running the Whiteman home. Nolte has rarely been so convincing in a role...apparently he spent several weeks on the streets of LA pretending to be homeless in preparation for the role. Richard Dreyfuss plays Dave Whiteman, the wealthy owner of a hanger company who takes Jerry in and initially envies Jerry's freedom before Jerry goes too far. Bette Midler is very funny as Dave's social climbing wife Barbara and Tracy Nelson plays their snooty college student daughter. Evan Richards also has some funny moments as the Whiteman son, Max. Paul Mazursky's spirited direction (Mazursky also cameos as one of Dave's fat-cat friends)and a clever screenplay help to make this one of the more entertaining comedy confections from the 80's. There is also a scene-stealing performance by a dog named Mike, who plays the Whiteman family pet, Matisse.
I may not know what's funny, but I know what I like. I thought this movie was absolutely hilarious. I don't know, or care if it is supposed to be a satire or not. Between the son and the dog and the neighbor and the anorexic daughter and the maid, not to mention the three main characters, there are many funny moments. Nick Nolte, insinuating himself on this dysfunctional family, headed by Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler, appears to steer them all in the right direction, with plenty of nice moments along the way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I visited a deli on Rodeo Drive just before this movie was released and
was staggered by the uniformity in grooming. It was like a small-town
high school in the 1950s. All the women looked alike. Beautiful. Their
long hair fluffy, each strand curled like Top Ramen. (Okay, okay. I
lack the vocabulary. Excuse me.) They all seemed to wear the same dark
rough-knit long-sleeved sweaters, tight Levis, and leather boots. This
is what one kills for? The privilege of wearing a uniform? Paul
Mazursky has got the milieu down pat and he skewers it. I haven't seen
the French original but, though it may be different, it's probably not
funnier than this version.
I'll skip the story except to say that it's about a homeless man (Nick Nolte) who is taken in by a wealthy dysfunctional family, and he straightens everyone out by giving them what they want -- as he puts it. Some gags are funnier than others, helped along by Mazursky's direction. When the spoiled, bored wife has an orgasm with the bum, she screams so loudly that the neighbors a block away turn to listen. A flock of pigeons is frightened out of its tree. I can't think of another movie that features a psychiatric veterinarian.
The climax, unfortunately, is more silly than funny, as if nobody could think of an ending that would stop what's already gone by. Mazursky had the same problem with "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," at the end of which the sting of genuine phoniness gives way completely to fantasy and everyone does a ring dance to "What The World Needs Now Is Love..." In "Down and Out in Beverley Hills," a party ends with the accidental setting off of a fireworks display and everyone jumping into the pool. You almost wince at the desperation behind this scene.
And then, in a denouement, when the bum decides to leave with the family dog, the whole family and their servants follow him into the mews behind the mansion and beg him with their eyes to come back, which he does quickly enough. Sure, it's a happy ending, but just exactly what is going to happen when Nolte returns after he's been exposed as a lying, manipulative, lazy scuzzbag who has given the son permission to be a transvestite and has been doing both his host's wife and daughter? All he had with him when he first entered the family was a pocket full of rocks. This time he's got a lot of baggage.
Still, it's a light-hearted and engaging comedy, and none of the acting hurts a bit. Aside from the doggy's psychiatrist, I thought Little Richard was the most memorable character, especially when he complains about how much longer it takes the police to respond to HIS emergency alarm than his white neighbors'. (The dog chases him away, tearing at his golden robe.) Dreyfus is quite good too, reminding me of his performance as the exasperated and finally mad psychiatrist in "What About Bob?" Mazursky wisely avoided any attempt to insinuate overt signs of "seriousness" into the screenplay. A comedy doesn't need dark undertones to be successful, and this is successful.
Still funny upon seeing it the second time - 20 years after its
first-run viewing. Every character is likable - Nolte, Dreyfuss and
Midler in the starring roles, and every one of the primary co-star and
the supporting cast.
Nolte is an outstanding actor, and this role and his harder-edged character in the great "North Dallas Forty," are among his very best. Many actors exhibit far different personalities off-screen than "on" ( e.g. Nicholson), or are downright goofy in real life (Cruise, Jolle, Affleck/Lopez, etc.). But I've never seen any whom I wish might be more like his on-screen persona than Nolte. The guy has charisma, believability, and is completely likable in every role.
Here, he staggers, pretty much literally, homeless, into the mansion of a Beverly Hills wealthy family as dysfunctional (although pleasantly so) as any on the planet.
Of course, his presence and "counsel" take care of all their neuroses - bringing a relaxed enjoyment of life to Dreyfuss, a reawakening of sexual delight in Midler, enjoyment (and relief from anorexia/bulimia) to the winsome daughter, direction to the frustrated adolescent son, happiness to the sexy Latino maid, and effecting a change in the family pooch to where he can now enjoy the pleasant life of a contented, happy pet.
The diversions and hi-jinks in the story are also pleasant - often these necessary components of a film can detract - and the equally necessary closing events lead to a pleasant rapprochement and a happy ending.
An excellent, "feel good" viewing experience.
When Nick Nolte was arrested for DUI in 2002 and they published his mug shot picture I thought it was Jerry Baskin. I first saw this film during it's initial theatrical release and found it very amusing. This is a re-telling of playwright René Fauchois' Boudu sauvé des eaux that was made into a film in 1932. In this story the rescued drowning man is played by Nick Nolte who is a down and out former actor who is homeless and had but one friend, his stray dog. He can't find his dog and wanders into the backyard of a Beverly Hills dysfunctional and affluent family where he plans to end it all by drowning in their swimming pool. Homeowner Richard Dreyfuss comes to the rescue and the homeless man, Jerry becomes a wanted and unwanted guest in their home. Bette Midler is Dreyfuss' wife, Tracy Nelson is the daughter, Evan Richards is the son, Elizabeth Pena is the maid and Little Richard is the next-door-neighbor. A fun situational comedy, the screenplay was written by Paul Mazursky and Leon Capetanos who collaborated on several films with Mazursky. Mazursky is a multi-talented director/writer/producer/actor who also appears in this film. He got wrote and produced I Love You Alice B. Toklis and then went on to big success as the director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. In the 70's he had some other notable films that he directed including Harry and Tonto and An Unmarried Woman but his only film of note in the 80's was Moscow on the Hudson and after Down and Out in Beverly Hills directed only seven other films of little note and his writing creativity seems to have stalled to as he only wrote four more screenplays in the past 20 years. Cinematographer Donald Mcalpine is this film's photographer. He's had recent success with Chronicles of Narnia. Some of his other films include Mrs. Doubtfire, Predator, My Brilliant Career and Breaker Morant. Andy Summers of the rock band the Police provides the music score. The Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime which was 6 years old was used as the theme song of the film and it suddenly became a charting single. This is a good film if you've never seen it and a good look back to the 80's. I would give it an 8.0 out of 10.
Sure it hasn't dated all that well, but look at this 1986 hit as a nice
time capsule of L.A. from that time period. A period that basically
ended with the sobering and terrifying riots of 1992. Down and Out in
Beverly Hills deals with a well-to-do yet dysfunctional family having
its priorities rearranged by a bum who first attempts to drown himself
in their swimming pool. Nick Nolte, looking only a little scruffier
than his 2002 Hawai'ian shirt mugshot plays the Jerry Baskin character
on different levels. Early on he seems much like the typical run of the
mill schizophrenic homeless person chasing after a dog who found
himself a better owner. Then, after his dunk in the pool, we see that
he is actually quite intelligent and observant. Almost instantly he
sees what is wrong with everyone in the household. He just can't seem
to point any of that intellect toward improving his own situation. Even
when it is laying there right in front of him.
The patriarch of the family is Dave Whiteman who embodies some of Richard Dreyfuss's better work. He is very successful, yet he it just too uptight. Something seems lacking for him. It isn't the appearance of the bum that sets him off. He actually is the one who most wants him to stay if perhaps to live vicariously through him in some ways. Bette Middler is on hand as Dave's sexually unfulfilled wife who mostly spends her time with worthless self-help gurus. She even has one hired for their cutesy little dog. Nolte is apparently the only man around who has what it takes to recharge her batteries in bed! The family has an attractive yet obviously anorexic daughter and an androgynous son. A sexpot Hispanic maid is also on hand for Dave to use at his will... that is until Nolte moves in on her as well. The film takes place over about a month's time and there really isn't much plot to speak of other than seeing how these characters are altered by Nolte's character.
The film has several funny moments, and thankfully Ms. Middler is not allowed to sing too much. The theme song by the Talking Heads is always welcome to the human ear. Some of the comedy, mostly involving the cutesy dog reactions and Little Richard's exasperated yelling are more annoying than anything else. There are some great performances and many funny observations about successful Angelinos at that time. Not much of a message to be learned from any of it, however. Maybe that is why it works. 8 of 10 stars.
Nick Nolte is "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," a 1986 film directed and
co-written by Paul Mazursky and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Bette
Midler, Elizabeth Pena, Little Richard, and Tracy Nelson. Nolte is
Jerry, a street person so low even his dog leaves him for a kind
jogger. While searching for his dog, he stumbles onto the property of
Dave and Barbara Whiteman - Whiteman is a clothes hanger king living
the good life in Beverly Hills. Filling his pockets with rocks, Jerry
attempts suicide by diving into the Whiteman pool, but is saved and
ultimately taken in by Dave. Jerry isn't particularly grateful - he
wants Courvoisier instead of the alcohol offered him, and, given
dinner, questions the meat on the turkey. Dave, guilty about his
wealth, bored with his life, and wanting to do some good, buys Jerry
clothes and lets him live at the mansion. He even offers Jerry jobs,
which Jerry doesn't accept. Jerry's history is on the vague side - he
speaks of doing the concert piano circuit, he is recognized in a
restaurant by as a writer, maybe he did some acting...hard to know.
Before long, he's taken over the entire household, becoming the only
one in the house that the Whiteman's psychologically disturbed dog,
Matisse, can tolerate, Barbara Whiteman's masseuse and the man who
finds her G-spot, the lover of housekeeper Carmen (Pena) after Dave
goes back to sleeping with Barbara, the man who gets the Whiteman's
anorexic daughter (Nelson) to fall in love with him and start eating;
and the man who convinces the androgynous Whiteman son to come out to
his parents. Too late, Dave realizes he's Dr. Frankenstein, and Jerry
is the monster.
This is an entertaining film with dark undertones and good performances, particularly from Nolte, Dreyfuss, Midler, Pena and Mike (Matisse the dog). Little Richard is a riot as a neighbor. Nolte is in great shape here, as is Midler, who looks fantastic. The party scene toward the end of the film where Dreyfuss chases Nolte throughout the house and grounds is quite funny. The ending isn't the best, but it's a fun watch anyway.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN THE
Down and Out in Beverley Hills is a comedy, which, bizarrely, gets funnier every year.
Whereas it's release saw it as a fairly standard screwball farce, time sees it more and more as a parody of vain 80s obsessions. Among the targets are the growing trends for therapists, jogging, alternative religions, designer drugs and fashion diets.
Richard Dreyfuss is perfect as Dave Whiteman, the nonplussed businessman in the centre of the chaos going on around him. Whereas in some movies the "cute dog" would be irritating, even this element is satisfying thanks to the open hatred he and Dreyfuss displays towards one another. I particularly like the scene where, unable to wreck Whiteman's sexual encounter with his mistress, the dog vindictively sets off the burglar alarm. Another nice touch is an early spoof reference to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", which of course starred Dreyfuss in the lead role. Closer inspection of the film reveals that it's also a lot wittier than you remembered.
Bette Midler's meditating, shallow and indulgent Barbara acts a light counterpoint to the social conscience thrown up by Nick Nolte's tramp, Jerry. Jerry's entry into the household, 35 minutes in, initiates a radical change in all the characters, with Jerry seducing all three women in Dreyfuss' life, helping his son to out himself, and taming his dog.
What makes this film a little bit special is the slightly darker, thoughtful edge it portrays. While it admittedly doesn't see through all the issues it throws up, this is a more intelligent than average comedy, with neatly drawn characters and a satisfying resolution.
Seen today, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS is hampered by its obvious
eighties-ness, which still doesn't detract from its fair quota of charms.
When a homeless man, Jerry (played by the ever-reliable Nick Nolte) is saved
from drowning in the swimming pool of nice-guy millionaire Dave (Richard
Dreyfuss), his subsequent welcome into their family has unpredictable
implications for Dave's badly-adjusted lot.
The humour is still by-and-large amusing after all these years (a highlight being when Dreyfuss hangs out on the beach with Nolte's fellow bums), even if the periphery characters are slight and shallow. The appearance of Little Richard early-on signals he's got to find a piano before the film is through. Unfortunately, his character - a black record producer unhappy at the implicit racism of the suburbs - has nothing else to do in the mean time.
While it hasn't stood the test of time, hamstrung by its good intentions and badly compromised ending, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS is an amusing diversion. The most surprising outcome you draw from watching again a family that does not communicate is just how well the issues were addressed in AMERICAN BEAUTY, an altogether darker comedy, but more funny, sincere and resonant.
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