Penny Marshall’s Riding in Cars with Boys is based on a memoir by Beverly Donofrio and tells the story of how a young woman’s desire to escape her small town, get a college education and become a professional writer is thwarted by her teenage pregnancy and subsequent marriage to a likable but burdensome loser.
As Beverly, Drew Barrymore is required to age from 15 to 35, and is somewhat more convincing as a troubled adolescent than as a weary adult who wears too much makeup (though one of the small revelations of the movie is the realization that with enough white powder and red hair dye Barrymore could pass for Julianne Moore’s younger sister). With her junkie husband, played by Steve Zahn in his usual dazed-and-confused mode, and oh-so-cute kid holding her back, Barrymore suffers grandly. But what lifts the movie, just barely, above the Lifetime level of masochistic wallow is that Beverly has a steely streak of selfishness that keeps the proceedings from sinking into the ersatz warmth of Hollywood happiness. She’s not entirely unsympathetic (what loving mother hasn’t wanted to, now and then, drop-kick her little cookie-cruncher down the stairs?), but not particularly likable either. On the other hand, she’s an aspiring artiste trapped in a typical American backwater — and while we’re asked to feel her pain, we can’t help but notice that the deck has been stacked.
We see plenty of examples of the stifling hierarchies and brainless pastimes of provincial life, but at no point is there any indication of where she got the idea that she wanted to be a writer or how this goal was nourished into an obsession. No doubt it’s an unintentional imbalance, but in this context the endless stream of golden oldies on the soundtrack takes on a slightly sinister tinge; these silly love songs are the beginning and end of her cultural life. The poor thing.
Visit the official Riding In Cars With Boys Web site at ridingincars.com.
See this week's Reckless Eyeballing for an exclusive interview with Riding In Cars With Boys' producer Sara Colleton.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.