Down and Out in Beverly Hills

An extremely funny if broad revamping of Jean Renoir's classic black comedy, “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” Paul Mazursky's film also works as a scathing critique of California's nouveau riche and their crass lifestyles, reflected, among other thnings, in the garish color plaette. In 1986, the comedy made waves as the first R-rated picture ever to come out of the squeaky-clean Disney studios.

Dave Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss), a New Yorker who has made it big manufacturing coat hangers, lives with his family in a luxuriously spacious Beverly Hills home. Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) is a down-and-out Beverly Hills street person who is devastated when his beloved dog deserts him for a more upwardly mobile master. Trying to drown himself in Whiteman's pool, he is rescued by Dave and offered a chance to recuperate in their home.

We soon learn that the nouveau riche household is full of conflicts and tensions. Dave is carrying on an affair with Carmen (Elizabeth Pena), the Mexican maid, since his wife Barbara (Bette Midler) has headaches every evening. Barbara relies upon the ministrations of a guru and a therapist to keep her functioning in her hectic lifestyle of aerobics classes and shopping expeditions.

Jerry seems to subscribe to a philosophy something akin to Thoreau's, namely, “A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to leave alone.” He doesn't relish the responsibilities and pressures that come with hard work and marriage. Yet he has the natural savvy and wisdom of a contemporary medicine man. Jerry dispenses comfort, counsel, and sexual favors to the entire Whiteman household.

Jenny Whiteman (Tracy Nelson) attends college in the East and is nearly anorectic. Max Whiteman (Evan Richards) only communicates with his parents through homemade videos; he is afraid to tell them about his androgynous impulses. Matisse, the Whiteman's dog, is so neurotic that he is seeing on a regular basis a canine psychiatrist.

Soon, Jerry gets involved with all the family members. There's an “everyone into the pool” sequence that tries too hard but is funny. The saga's ending is much softer than Renoir's, but on its own terms, the film is successful.

Jerry's highly developed interpersonal gifts eventually rub Dave the wrong way. After all, he's the Good Samaritan who rescued this loser and gave him an education in what it takes to achieve the good life. But, in the last analysis, Dave begins to see the world around him with fresh eyes.

The film flaunts the liberal humanism of Mazursky, who obviously cherishes the eccentricities of Americans of all stripes. This comedy of manners, co-scripted by Masursky with Leon Capetanos is based on Rene Fauchois' play “Boudu Sauve des Eaux” (upon which Renoir's 1932 movie is based), about a Paris bum who plunges into the Seine to end his life and is rescued by a bookseller. Now the bum is in Beverly Hills and the water is the Whitemans' pool.

“Down and Out in Beverly Hills” is filled with hilarious incidents (including several occasions when Maltisse sets off the fire alarm which summons the security firm, and clever one-liners, as when Dave describes his daughter's visits home as “a blur with a nice smell.”
Mazursky draws out top- notch performances from the versatile cast and an especially winning one from Little Richard, as the Whiteman's next-door neighbor, a record producer who entertains a very funny party. Mike the dog steals every scene he is in, particularly in a scene when Jerry shows Matisse that his dog food is eatable. You may spot Mazursky in a bit part as an accountant