Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills

Paul Bartel's follow-up satire to Eating Raoul, Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), reveals what goes on behind close doors in the mansions of the country's most affluent community. The heroine is Clare Lipkin (Jacqueline Basset), a newly widowed matron who's busy planning her husband's funeral and at the same time her return to TV, where she was once star of a second-rank sitcom.

Mexican cook Rosa (Edith Diaz), who's the film's conscience, is treated shabbily by her employer. Among Rosa's responsibilities is taking care of Clare's eccentric guests: Dr. Mo Van de Kamp (Bartel), her portly “thinologist”; Lisabeth (Mary Woronov), a recent divorcee whose house is being fumigated; Lisabeth's brother Peter (Ed Begley Jr.), an ungifted playwright, and Peter's new black wife, To-bel (Arnetia Walker), the reason for Lisabeth's divorce from her husband Howard (Wallace Shawn).

Principal movers of the plot are Clare's houseboy, Frank (Ray Sharkey), a fast-talking gigolo, and Lisabeth's naive houseboy, Juan (Robert Beltran), who dreams of becoming a transgressor–”crossing-over like Ruben Blades”–and belong to Beverly Hills' elite. Frank has given up on such dreams; having been “on the other side,” he realizes there isn't any difference. Out of boredom, Frank bets with Juan that, if the latter can seduce Clare before he can seduce Lisabeth, he'll give him $5,000 to pay off his gambling debts.

Like Eating Raoul, this farce, written by Bruce Wagner based on Bartel's idea, meanders from one set piece to the next with slow speed. The movie's funny lines are delivered with the kind of self-consciousness that diffuses the rudeness. Asked about news stories that expose his clinic, the doctor says: “When you get a bunch of rich fat people who are determined to get thin at any cost, some of them are going to die. It's a rule of thumb.” With the assist of Alex Tavoularis's witty production design, some images stand out, including that of Lisabeth's mansion being fumigated–covered with a pink cloth, the house looks as if it had been wrapped by Christo.

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