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Riding in Cars with Boys

Starring Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia, Lorraine Bracco and James Woods
Screenplay by Morgan Upton Ward
Based on the book by Beverly Donofrio
Directed by Penny Marshall

IN SHORT: One great performance in an otherwise uneven film. [PG-13 for thematic elements, drug and sexual content. minutes]

Ah, you know it's awards wannabe time when you start sitting for extra-length serious flicks in which name stars take on unsympathetic characters. Having been through this grind for a number of years, we've come to the conclusion that only if the actor in question can make us feel any kind of sympathy for his/her character should we be putting any given name on any given list. Drew Barrymore makes the list this year. Would that the rest of the film worked at the same level as her performance...

Ah to be 14, when all that matters is school and parties, not necessarily in that order. Even better to be fifteen, in a 1965 Wallingford Connecticut setting, when sex enters the equation. Wallingford is a blue collar town where the Donofrio family lives. Dad (James Woods) works on the police force. Mom (Lorraine Bracco) keeps house. Kidlet Beverly (Drew Barrymore) has big dreams of moving to New York for a collegiate spin at NYU and then on to a successful career as a writer. That she gets knocked up at fifteen to a slug about ten levels below her, both financially and intellectually, isn't much of a reason to let those dreams go -- Bev can always get Mom to help with the kid. Ray (Steve Zahn) does the right thing and at the joyless wedding, Beverly is overjoyed to find out that her best friend Fay (Brittany Murphy) is also preggers. Two more kidlets that won't see a high school graduation gown. We're off to the races.

Actually, not. Beverly is so self-absorbed in her own dreams that there isn't much place for anyone else to share the stage with her. While her parents try to help out, buying a run down house as a wedding present and looking after the baby as Bev catches up with her studies, the kid treats her folks like hired help. Ray and Fay are the only constants in her life. The former moves from job to job as his life crashes and burns independently of his family. The latter is rescued by an out of state family member, at a very high cost.

Beverly is bad news for everyone around her. The big reason behind that perception is that we're male. From the femme side, Riding in Cars with Boys could be seen as one of those independent girl overcoming all odds to win the success she dreamed of story (well, that is what it is). From our POV, Riding in Cars With Boys is probably the best on film manual for screwing up your kids that has ever been made. We get to see Bev's mistakes and the grownup result; the unwanted son Jason (Adam Garcia), raised to feel he was always in his mother's way. Ultimately, the story tries to resolve all issues between Bev and her parents and her son and comes off feeling like an adapted book which barely made it through the editing process.

Which it is. Holding it all together is the work of director Penny Marshall, who can probably turn straw to gold if she set her mind to it. While Drew's self-absorbed character must be center stage in this world, Marshall lets Steve Zahn loose to deliver a better performance than any he's done before. It doesn't matter if he's a loser, and he is, this keeps the movie feeling grounded and real.

But then again, we've got the guy's perspective.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Riding in Cars with Boys, he would have paid . . .


dateflick level though more for the ladies.

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