Friday, November 11, 2022

#2,860. Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989) - Kino Lorber Releases


Soft music plays as the film’s opening credits, elegant and ornate, flash against a red velvet backdrop. It feels like the start of a soap opera.

But Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills was written and directed by Paul Bartel, the creative mind behind such irreverent comedies as Eating Raoul and Lust in the Dust. This 1989 movie may look classy out of the gate, but how long will it remain that way?

Not very long!

The setting (obviously) is Beverly Hills, California. Claire (Jacqueline Bisset), a former sitcom star and recent widow, lives in a posh mansion with her teenage daughter Zandra (Rebecca Schaeffer) and her servants, Rosa (Edith Diaz) and Juan (Robert Beltran). Claire’s next-door neighbor and good friend, the newly-divorced Lisabeth (Mary Woronov) is having her mansion fumigated, and she and her entourage, including her terminally ill son Willie (Barret Oliver) and houseboy Frank (Ray Starkey), will be staying at Claire’s until the work is finished.

Joining them are Lisabeth’s playwright brother Peter (Ed Begley Jr.) and Peter’s new wife, To-Bel (Arnetia Walker), who have known each other a week and were hitched two days earlier in Las Vegas. Also popping in from time-to-time are Claire’s nutritionist Dr. Mo (Bartel) and his dog Bojangles; Lisabeth’s sorrowful ex-husband Howard (Wallace Shawn); and the spirit of Claire’s deceased husband Sidney (Paul Mazursky), who, though he ignored her in life, wants another shot at romance now that he’s in the great beyond!

The story kicks off with Juan and Frank making a bet with one another: who will be the first to bed the other’s employer? Frank, a smooth talker who is already sleeping with Zandra, puts the moves on Claire while the more reserved Juan musters up the courage to flirt with Lisabeth. But like any soap opera, there is a lot more to it than that, with secrets, infidelities and deceptions aplenty.

Bartel assembled a dream cast for Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, and all are wonderful in their parts. Beltran is strong as Juan, one of the film’s few likable characters and a role that essentially makes him the lead. He needs $5,000 to pay off his loan shark (Jerry Tondo), and Frank has offered to front him the money if he wins the bet (I’ll leave it for you to discover what Frank gets if he wins). But while Frank has turned seduction into an art form, Juan doesn’t have it in him, and his attempts to woo Lisabeth are, at times, clumsy.

As for the rest of the film’s colorful characters, you’ll need a scorecard to figure out who is sleeping with who, and when. Though married to Peter, To-Bel gets around, and is hiding a couple of secrets from her new husband. But then Peter is no saint, and puts the moves on Claire the minute the two of them are alone.

Written by Bruce Wagner (from a story by he and Bartel), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is, at all times, a witty satire of television soap operas, with lines that will have you laughing out loud. Returning home from the funeral for Sidney, who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation while cheating on her, Claire says, matter-of-factly, to Dr. Mo “It’s finally over. Sidney Lipkin Companies have completed their much-awaited merger with Mother Earth, Inc. That should give the sagging maggot industry an instantaneous boost in the arm”.

Yet, as unlikable as just about every character (with one or two exceptions) can be in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, we do eventually develop a sort of affection for them (some of them, anyway), and look forward to discovering which characters will have a happy ending, and which will be left out to dry. And much like the movie itself, the answers will both surprise you and make you laugh.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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