Riding in Cars with Boys

Directed by Penny Marshall
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia, Lorraine Bracco, James Woods, Sara Gilbert, Desmond Harrington, David Moscow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Facinelli.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug and sexual content.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
November 3, 2001

Few films this year have been as missold or mishandled as Riding in Cars With Boys.

The film is based on a memoir written by Beverly Donofrio (who was born D'Onofrio, married, divorced, took back her maiden name, and dropped the apostrophe for her nom de plume, despite being the same as a movie star's surname). Her story is deep, moving, dark, and yet funny. It could have been made into a great film, but not by Penny Marshall, yet that is what happened. Then, it was sold as a heartwarming romantic comedy, which it is not. If it were, then Marshall would have been an appropriate director, and the film might have had a shot at making money.

Drew Barrymore plays Donofrio from the age of 15, when she became pregnant, to the age of 35, when she published the memoir. She had a somewhat involuntary marriage to Raymond Haseck (Steve Zahn), and had to raise her son Jason with little help from her drop-out husband while trying to get an education and a career as a writer. The story is told in flashback while a 20-year-old Jason (Adam Garcia) is driving Beverly from New York to their hometown in Connecticut.

All of the elements of the story are visible, but the film is completely lost when it comes to expressing them. The performances by Barrymore and Zahn are excellent, as expected, but the film never reaches their level. The screenplay by Morgan Ward is dry and episodic, clumsily handling the narrative as it jerks about in time. Meanwhile, Marshall's sentimentalism prevents the film from really exploring the dark nature of the relationship between mother and son. Instead, she ignores the problems just as the characters are, and decides to go with verbal confrontations that seem to be ripped from movies of the week.

I believe that the film could be remarkably improved with just a little creative editing. Barrymore seemed to know where to take the film, and I'm sure there's some really great stuff on the cutting room floor that could tell the story with more non-verbal acting. Then again, Marshall probably just committed the actors speaking lines to film. Sadly, we may never know.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Riding in Cars with Boys, a memoir by Beverly Donofrio -- Compact Disc
Riding in Cars with Boys, a memoir by Beverly Donofrio -- Audio Cassette (read by Christina Moore)
Riding in Cars with Boys: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan