Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

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He’s gonna give the dog fleas. Unlucky homeless guy Dave (Nick Nolte) decides to call it quits, and so sneaks into a stranger’s backyard in the posh enclave of Beverly Hills and tries to drown himself in the pool. However, Jerry’s plans are stopped by the pool’s owner, white-collar businessman Dave (Richard Dreyfuss), who pulls the tramp out of the water and into the pool house. But Dave’s hospitality and his status-obsessed wife Barbara (Bette Midler), don’t impress Jerry, who ignores them and first makes their crazy dog Matisse (Mike!) take his instructions and then pursues the family’s maid, Carmen (Elizabeth Peña) who is Jerry’s lover. Then Barbara succumbs to him during a massage. As he insinuates himself into the family they each think he’s solely devoted to them. Things finally come to a head at the New Year’s party when Dave is trying to impress potential Chinese buyers and his anorexic daughter Jenny (Tracy Nelson) reveals the reason she’s eating again … I went shopping for gratification. But it was like sex without a climax. Paul Mazursky’s remake of the 1932 Renoir film Boudu Saved From Drowning (itself adapted from a French play) is a sprightly screwball farce with some very funny performances in this story of a one-man home invasion who seduces all before him, starting with the dog, who has his own psychiatrist. Taking potshots at midlife crises, below-stairs relationships, race relations, wellness fads, consciousness raising and silly people who have more money than sense, it might not be the vicious satire you expect from Mazursky but it’s hilarious from start to finish with some really smart verbal transitions from scene to scene. Co-written with Leon Capetanos. I knew that bum was trouble

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Time Out of Mind (2015)

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NYC is a frightening place, especially the first time you spend there, but I’ve rarely seen anything to equal Richard Gere urinating in the street. He exults in the disgust of a man castigating him for it, calling him an animal. Oren Moverman’s commitment to the real meant that cameras were hidden as George (Gere) went around, camouflaged in beanies and anoraks, apparently aimlessly, drifting, while the denizens do what they do to the homeless in a terrifying cacophonous din that has for the viewer the dramatic affect of tinnitus. We see George going from homeless shelter to subway, hungry, begging, experiencing the death-defying bureaucracy along the way that would drive a fine mind crazy with frustration:  he has no ID, no paperwork to get more paperwork that would get him a bed, food vouchers, comfort. Sometimes he follows a young woman (Jena Malone) who it transpires is his daughter, who disowns him. At eighty minutes into the running time he finally tells his newfound Bellevue Hospital friend (Ben Vereen) the cataclysmic series of unfortunate events that has led to him having a life on the streets. A chance reunion with trolley lady Sheila (Kyra Sedgwick) enlightens us as to how he is thrown out of an apartment at the story’s opening. Gere is very moving.  He is frequently on the edge, crying, upset and he is very touching in the role, inasmuch as the writing allows, but his character is somewhat enigmatic. There is a resolution, of a sort, in keeping with the demands of the medium. Even Ken Loach has to permit that and this is a film that is redolent of that approach. But this is far from an easy watch. Moverman and Jeffrey Caine wrote the screenplay, developed from Caine’s story. Maybe we can all have more understanding of street people as a result.

Ironweed (1987)

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Quite why the homeless opt out is something that forms the bedrock of this film’s narrative, adapted by the author William Kennedy from his novel. Star performances elevate the downbeat Depression-era material, with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep giving real depth to these sad street people. He is back in his hometown at Halloween, for the first time in decades. She is his occasional girlfriend, a former musician who has long abandoned her musical dreams – her hallucinatory performance of He’s My Pal is a highlight. It’s nice to see Carroll Baker, turning up as Jack’s ex-wife in a radiant performance. The cruelty of society, the beatings administered by ex-servicemen and the awful tragedies that have caused decent people to become hobos, are problems that are relentless and persistent and while the poetry of Kennedy mitigates the depression, the outcomes don’t. Babenco had previously made The Kiss of the Spider Woman but this was his first film proper for an English-speaking audience and he followed up with At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In other words, he is a serious filmmaker of serious films. And Nicholson is indelible as the sad Francis Phelan.