Movie Review by Reece De Ville
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia, James Woods
Director: Penny Marshall
Director Penny Marshall dealt with medical miracles in AWAKENINGS as well as the amazing rise of an all female baseball team in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. Both based on true stories, and remarkable ones at that. However, as is the Hollywood way, both were sanitised, condensed and packaged in a candy wrapper for consumer consumption. Which brings me nicely on to Marshall’s latest, RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS.
Spanning over 20 years, RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS tells the true story of Beverly Donofrio (Drew Barrymore) and how one fateful day changes her life forever. Through a chance meeting with local bad boy Ray Hasek (Steve Zahn), Beverly’s world is turned upside down as she falls pregnant, much to the dismay of her parents (James Woods and Lorraine Bracco). This leads Beverly to marry Ray and for her best friend Fay Forrester (Brittany Murphy) to announce her pregnancy at the wedding itself. This is the start of a chain of events which would help to shape both Beverly’s life and that of her son Jason (Adam Garcia) from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s.
Certainly, the film’s opening helps to establish Drew’s character to the audience with the devastating events of her childhood. However, the film tends to lose it’s way as moments of Beverly’s life are touched upon but then segmented into ‘bitesize’ pieces which are neither too long to establish an emotional impact or interesting enough to maintain the viewer’s attention. For instance, the alienation felt by Beverly when her father disowns her is only remembered when he returns for the patchy finale ‘neatly’ wrapping up the story to bring the audience full circle.
Scenes such as Beverly’s inability to be accepted for a place at college due to Ray not babysitting Jason are handled effectively, and the adult Jason does indeed make references to this event in his voiceover later on, reflecting his guilt on how he thinks he has held his mother back all these years. Unfortunately, such instances of clever plot weaving seem to have been bypassed for a more conventional ‘bring on the orchestra, it’s time to weep’ approach (I even expected a ‘cry now’ subtitle to appear on screen, the music was that forceful).
All is not bleak in the cynical world of true life, Hollywood style however. James Woods and Lorraine Bracco, although appearing very briefly, manage to bring poignancy and help lend weight to what is really a lightweight ‘movie of the week’ adaptation. Adam Garcia is also good value as Jason, as is Steve Zahn as the hopeless Ray who’s final appearance in the film ironically pulls the heartstrings more than what has gone before.
The film, rightly or wrongly, does belong to Drew Barrymore. Her portrayal of Beverly reminds me more of her POISON IVY days than such lightweight fluff as CHARLIE’S ANGELS. She’s certainly a star on the rise, but is hampered by a lazy script and lacklustre direction from someone who should really think more about adaptation and truth than pleasing the popcorn munchers for a wholesome 90 minutes.
So, overall, a harmless little film which, despite some nice performances and an entertaining opening, soon starts drowning in syrup and all things sugary. I’m off to watch EVIL DEAD.