Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

“I ate garbage for dinner last night, Barbara — and I liked it!”

Down and Out in Beverly Hills Poster

Synopsis:
A suicidal homeless man (Nick Nolte) befriends a wealthy hanger manufacturer (Richard Dreyfuss) and eventually becomes a part of his Beverly Hills household — which consists of his neurotic wife (Bette Midler), his cross-dressing son (Evan Richards), his eating-challenged daughter (Tracy Nelson), and his sexy maid (Elizabeth Pena).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, Paul Mazursky’s “remake of Jean Renoir’s 1932 classic Boudu Saved From Drowning” (based on René Fauchois‘ 1919 play) has been updated, transplanted, and “injected [with] many ingredients”, including “the nice but screwy family from My Man Godfrey“. He argues that while “the acting by Nolte, Dreyfuss, and Midler is the picture’s main plus”, the “humor is so erratic that Mazursky repeatedly cuts to dog reaction shots to get easy laughs”. He adds that while “the entire family is obnoxious at the beginning”, “Mazursky obviously likes them and simply assumes that we’ll soon share his warm feelings just because they grow more tolerant of each other and Nolte”. Indeed, the film’s narrative trajectory depends upon each member of Dreyfuss’s household becoming humanized and/or liberated due to Nolte’s influence — and the running message seems to be that a caring outside perspective is often enough to function as a catalyst for personal growth and increased self-confidence.

I agree with Peary that the film’s humor is often overly broad (those dog shots certainly feel gratuitous and repetitive) — but overall I find this to be a rare example of a (mostly) successful updated remake. There are quite a few scenes that ring true and seem to respectfully highlight important nuances in class relations. In one scene, for instance, a cleaned-up Nolte is having lunch with Dreyfuss at a swanky Beverly Hills restaurant when he notices his homeless buddy Al (Felton Perry) walking by. Perry and Nolte are thrilled to see each other, and Perry comes inside to join them — but, to Dreyfuss’s astonishment, he politely refuses an offer of lunch (though he does steal bread rolls from various tables on his way out). Dignity of a sort is maintained, with Nolte openly acknowledging his humble origins (rather than maintaining a new facade of wealth), and Perry demonstrating self-sufficiency in the face of charity.

Indeed, part of what makes Nolte’s character so oddly appealing is his refusal to “take advantage” of anything offered to him: he accepts Dreyfuss’s offer of food, clothing, and shelter, but it’s understood that he’ll leave whenever he pleases, and is unwilling to become the object of anyone’s pity or derision. He’s a refreshingly unique protagonist, and makes the film worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nick Nolte as Jerry
    Down and Out in Beverly Hills Nolte
  • Good use of The Talking Heads’ “Once in the Lifetime” to open and close the film

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable updated adaptation of a classic story.

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