Picks and Pans Review: Riding in Cars with Boys
At 15, Bev (Barrymore) gets pregnant, weds the baby's father, drops out of high school and begins wallowing in that most ignoble of human emotions, self-pity. "My life is over," she moans. Riding in Cars with Boys intends to prove otherwise. But the story that follows is as confused and contradictory as its moody teenage heroine.
The movie is based on author Beverly Donofrio's affecting 1990 memoir of the same title, which mapped her hardscrabble journey from working-class teen mother in Wallingford, Conn., to fledgling writer in Manhattan. The book told the inspiring story of how a determined Donofrio raised her son alone while still managing to earn a master's degree. The movie, wavering precariously between comedy and drama, skips that part altogether. Instead it alternates between 1965—when Bev is so busy whining about changing diapers and resenting motherhood that she fails to notice that her husband (Zahn), a sweet-natured screwup, has become a junkie—and 1986, when her son is grown and Bev has finished writing her memoir. What's missing is how she got from A to B. That's the film we want to see.
Bev and other characters keep insisting that she's smart, though director Penny Marshall (The Preacher's Wife) doesn't show Bev doing anything to back that up. Rather, Bev behaves like a ninny and a spoiled child. That would be fine if the point were to demonstrate how she eventually overcame her self-centered behavior and became a better person and parent. But the adult Bev is just as much of a sourpuss as her teenage self. Barrymore acts the heck out of her role, without ever inhabiting it. She approaches her teen scenes with a cheerleader's concentrated pep, but in her grown-up guise seems to think that by narrowing her eyes into slits and showing hauteur she can pass for 35. As her loser hubby, Zahn gives the film's best and most bittersweet performance. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Bumpy ride