Penny Marshall's RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS is two thirds of a good movie.
After a successful comedic hour or so, the movie makes a sharp turn and
becomes a long piece of shameless schmaltz that doesn't know when to stop.
Morgan Ward's script, based on Beverly D'Onofrio's autobiography, makes the
mistake of trying to shoehorn in too many episodes and ages. The resulting
structure makes it feel like excerpts from a long running television series.
Individual incidents in the film are quite funny, but the meandering and
bloated last act makes you forget how much you laughed in the beginning.
A spunky Drew Barrymore plays the hardworking Beverly D'Onofrio, a woman who
had a baby at age 15 but who eventually followed her dreams and became a
writer. The on-going joke between herself and her son is that she isn't a
particularly good mother. Like SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, Barrymore
plays opposite a large number of actors playing her son Jason. I believe
the final count is six, but I might have missed some of them. Trimming the
story down to just a few would have helped immensely. The best of the bunch
is Logan Arens, who is the round faced and highly verbal 3-year-old Jason.
Adam Garcia, Mr. Sex Appeal from Coyote Ugly, is lethargic as the grownup
Steve Zahn (JOY RIDE) plays Beverly's screw-up husband Raymond. Zahn, whose
specialty is playing wonderfully lovable doofuses, stretches a bit this
time. His character, while he has his likable side, can also be quite
repulsive. A heroin addict, an alcoholic and a generally unfit parent,
Raymond, in his limited capacity, tries to be a good father and husband but
fails miserably. Raymond's AWOL approach to his family is both a blessing
and a curse.
The movie's best scene occurs in the beginning when Mika Boorem (HEARTS IN
ATLANTIS) plays the young Beverly. In the car with her police officer
father (James Woods), she is asked what she wants for Christmas. Her father
holds the possibility of a bike over her head. Although he figures she'll
take the bait, she surprises him by asking for something to attract a boy.
She wants a bra to display her nearly non-existent assets. With a bra she
believes she can compete with the more popular girls who are further along
with puberty. Her life will be one of going for the winners and ending up
with the losers when it comes to the opposite sex. Her lifelong girlfriend,
Fay (Brittany Murphy), becomes the one constant in her life. Murphy, who
had a showy part in DON'T SAY A WORD as the troubled teen, is given a very
straightforward one as a sidekick this time. She delivers a solid but
Even if Penny Marshall's direction is filled with problems, Drew Barrymore
is a real trooper who gives the movie her all. She does everything asked of
her and generally pulls it off. From trying to throw herself down a flight
of small stairs to singing and dancing for her child while her husband is
trying to kill his heroin habit in the next room, she is a real charmer. If
you leave before the last act begins, you'll probably find the movie itself
just as satisfyingly sweet. Stay and you'll find it cloying.
RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS runs a long 2:03. It is rated PG-13 for "thematic
elements, drug and sexual content" and would be acceptable for kids around
11 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 12, who gave the movie only * 1/2, said it seemed like
it would never end. He liked the funny parts when Jason was young but
didn't care for the rest of the movie.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes