Writer/director Tamara Jenkins took her initial career bow in the late '90s, riding to fame on the crest of the American independent film movement in the same generation as such contemporaries as Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. While not nearly as prolific as the said directors, Jenkins did net exceptionally favorable reviews comparable to those thrust on her colleagues, though a lengthy period in between her freshman and sophomore efforts kept her out of the public limelight and therefore forced a low profile on the nascent filmmaker.
The daughter of a Philadelphia-area strip-club owner father and a hat-check girl mother, Jenkins survived a messy period when her parents divorced; she wound up in the custody of her dad and followed him to the West Coast, where he tried to make a living hawking oversized cars during the energy crisis of the mid-'70s. In time, increasingly challenging parental circumstances forced Jenkins' older brother to serve as her guardian. During her late twenties, she began helming acclaimed short films that wore autobiographical influences on the sleeve, and received a hand up from two sources: a covetable Guggenheim grant and Robert Redford, at whose Sundance Institute Jenkins penned the script for her debut feature, Slums of Beverly Hills. Fortuitously (and unsurprisingly), Redford carried his assistance a step further when he opted to executive produce Slums. Premiering in 1998, this offbeat seriocomedy tells of a young woman (Natasha Lyonne) enduring an impoverished adolescence on the "wrong side of the tracks" in 1970s Beverly Hills, CA, with a single dad employed as a car salesman. (In other words, more than a faint echo of Jenkins' own experience.) In addition to then-ingenue Lyonne, the film boasted the participation of such heavyweights as Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei. The film gleaned critical raves and a substantial cult following, and performed respectably at the box office.