Riding in Cars With Boys



USA 2001
director : Penny Marshall
script : Morgan Upton Ward, based on book by Beverley Donofrio
producers include : James L Brooks, Ward, Donofrio
cinematography : Miroslav Ondricek
editing : Richard Marks
music : Hans Zimmer
lead actors : Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia
131-2 minutes

A rancid, self-indulgent melodrama Riding In Cars With Boys is also, apparently, a complete travesty of the best-selling book on which it’s ‘based.’ Not that the film would ever make you want to actually find out for yourself – as with the equally dire American Psycho movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Marshall, Barrymore and company actually hated d’Onofrio’s book and set out to dissuade anyone from going near it.

If only they were so subversive. A much more likely – and depressing – explanation is that Barrymore read the book, liked it, somehow ‘connected’ with the heroine, and (the main thing) saw the role as potential Oscar bait. It’s the same numbnuts thinking that led to the Winona Ryder Girl, Interrupted, and, if advance reports are any guide, Christina Ricci in Prozac Nation. As allegedly “brainy” bad-girl Beverly d’Onofrio, Barrymore gets to age from 15 to 35, have an unwanted child as a teenage mother, and marry a good-for-nothing junkie (Zahn), all the while constantly strive to achieve the college-grad status snatched so cruelly from her grasp.

The whole tale is narrated by her grown-up son (Garcia), as he drives Beverly to see Ray, who must sign a consent form if her autobiography can be published: not much suspense there, of course, since we’re watching the film of the book. And not much interest of any other kind – it’s impossible to tell what d’Onofrio is like in reality, or even in the book, but this film Beverley is a truly obnoxious creation. We’re constantly being told how clever and thus deserving she is, but we’re never shown her doing anything especially ‘smart,’ and there’s absolutely nothing to support her supposed ‘flair for writing.’

Even worse, she never stops complaining: her problems are always somebody else’s fault, but from what we see her long-suffering parents (James Woods, Lorraine Bracco), friend (Murphy) and son deserve medals for putting up with her antics. Barrymore has never been any great shakes as an actress (her appeal in direct inverse ratio to her amount of screen time, and in cameo roles, such as Scream and Donnie Darko, she’s fine.) Riding in Cars with Boys – a convoluted, inaccurate title for a convoluted, inaccurate movie – sees her biting off spectacularly more than she can chew: and she’s not just unconvincing as a 15-year-old, or a 35-year-old, she’s unconvincing as a human being.

The nadir is reached when, trying to throw herself down a flight of stairs in a desperate attempt to abort her baby, she bumps harmlessly down on her backside, over and over and over. It’s perhaps the most embarrassing scene of the year. But what can you say about a film when even Steve Zahn, as entertaining and natural an actor as Hollywood can boast, is stumped by the script’s terminal inanity. The pivotal revelation of his drug problem is so abrupt, arbitrary and unlikely that for a moment we presume it must be a joke. We should be so lucky.

16th December, 2001
(seen Dec-3-01, Warner Village, Newcastle)

by Neil Young
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