Director Penny Marshall told Premiere magazine that "Riding in Cars with
Boys" should do for teen pregnancy what "Jaws" did for swimming. While
the film most certainly does show the devastating effects an unplanned
pregnancy can have on young lives, the production is anything but a
downer. For every sad or painful moment (and there are many) "Riding in
Cars" provides an amusing counterpoint. While, at 131 minutes, the film
sags in spots, it is remarkably rich and robust, with a wealth of
Based on Beverly D'Onofrio's 1990 autobiography of the same name, the
ambitious screenplay by Morgan Upton Ward ("A Pyromaniac's Love Story")
hops around between 1961 and 1986 as it chronicles the life of a young
woman whose dreams of becoming a writer are sidetracked when she becomes
pregnant by a well-meaning, but hapless neighborhood boy. Teen-age
Beverly (Drew Barrymore) repeatedly tries to better herself, but can't
escape the low rent life with her baby and drug-addicted husband, Ray
During a road trip that serves as a framing device for the film, Beverly
must finally deal with the results of her impulsive and self-absorbed
youth as she travels cross-country with her adult son Jason (Adam
Garcia) to meet with the long gone husband and father.
In lesser hands, the whole affair could have become unbearably mawkish
or grim, but Penny Marshall has a real gift for mixing humor with
heartbreak. From Bev's attempts to throw herself down a stairway to
Ray's "lyrical" wedding proposal ("Please marry me because I'm shit
without you."), there are a lot of laughs to be had.
The casting is flawless. Although she struggles a bit while playing the
upper end of her character's age range, Drew Barrymore does a wonderful
job as Bev, successfully rounding out the unsympathetic aspects of the
woman. Steve Zahn, who shows more depth with each new film, is just as
good as Ray. Lorraine Bracco and James Woods are solid as Bev's parents
and Brittany Murphy is letter perfect as best friend Fay (Just wait
until you hear her impersonation of Loraine Bracco). A number of little
actors play the children at various ages and they are all delightful.
Unfortunately, two very talented performers are given little to do.
"Roseanne" veteran Sara Gilbert should be starring in films, not
appearing in thankless supporting roles. And Rosie Perez is relegated to
a few harrowing moments onscreen, looking impossibly severe. How severe
does she look? Let me put it this way: Had she looked like this in
"Fearless," Bubble would have leapt from her arms before the plane
Bursting at the seams with period music, sets and outfits, "Riding in
Cars with Boys" takes a bleak story and invests it with magic, all
without compromising any hard truths. What a pleasant surprise.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott