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A Mom's Tale

Riding in Cars with Boys

I think I can safely say that mothers are, at least once in their lives, taken for granted. We assume that they must be completely devoted to their children; that their kids must be the apple of their eye and the center of their universe. Director Penny Marshall's latest film, Riding in Cars with Boys, is a nuanced, funny and bittersweet look at real, unadulterated motherhood.

Based on the memoirs of writer Beverly Donofrio, it tells the story of her life from age 15 to 35. Drew Barrymore plays Beverly, a dumpy, smart and intrinsically girlish teenager coming of age in Wallingford, CT during the 1960's. She's got a good head on her shoulders and is bound for greatness; however, her Achilles heel gets in the way. The crux of the story focuses on this aspect, which boils down to one main shortcoming: Beverly's weakness for men (and the subsequent horrible decisions she makes vis a vis their presence). She ends up getting involved with Mr. Wrong, a slow-witted loser with no apparent future or ambition named Ray, (played marvelously by Steve Zahn, best known for his role as a sweet dumbass in Happy, Texas), becoming a teenage mother and almost shattering her aspirations for a better life.

Throughout her trials and tribulations- there's humor. There are numerous funny scenes that perfectly orchestrate wit, candor and sentimentality. In one of the first moments, a young Bev asks for a bra from her police-officer father (James Woods) for Christmas in lieu of a bike. She goes into a discourse about her breasts and when her father uncomfortably denies her request, she states, "Pop, you can't negotiate my boobs!" Riding in Cars with Boys navigates the young girls' complex psyche with skill and respect. It doesn't simplify these characters or exaggerate them.

For Barrymore, this is a breakout role; she's good, really good. She's got the working-class spunk of Rizo from Grease paired with a set of stellar brains. She allows you into this woman's life and history so that you come to know her and want to find out even more. She and Marshall crystallize on the screen the concept that mother's are also individuals with hopes and dreams of their own. It's not afraid to explore tough issues; like when Beverly asks her loyal best friend Fay (Brittany Murphy, who is superb and funny), "Do I love my son because I actually do or because I have to?" Barrymore is best when she's in 'crisis mode' or being slapstick funny. One such scene occurs when she's trying to fall down the stairs in an effort to rid herself of her pregnancy; this moment of comical desperation is truly hilarious.

Riding in Cars with Boys is about difficult decisions and disappointments. Although this woman's life was extremely tough and arduous, you don't feel like shooting yourself afterwards- you're actually inspired and refreshed. Men fear not, this is not a chick flick in the pure sense of the term. Sure it's about motherhood, but everyone has a mom so you'll be able to relate. Plus, the movie also examines this woman's relationship with her son Jason (played by Adam Garcia as an adult and an unbearably cute eight-year old by Logan Lerman), and it's funny to boot, so the few tearjerker scenes are always balanced out by a good laugh.


Riding in Cars with Boys
rated PG-13
2 hour 12 minutes

Drew Barrymore
Brittany Murphy
James Woods
Steve Zahn
Lorraine Bracco