Gary Couzens has reviewed the theatrical release of Riding in Cars with Boys. Drew Barrymore stars as the real-life Beverley Donofrio, struggling to make a life for herself despite pregnancy at fifteen followed by a failing marriage. Excellent performances from Barrymore (who may well win an Oscar for this) and Steve Zahn can’t overcome too-familiar material, overlength and a dragging second half.Riding in Cars with Boys goes on national release on 7 December.
The mid 1980s. Beverley Donofrio (Drew Barrymore), now in her thirties with a twenty-year-old son Jason (Adam Garcia), is about to have her life story published as a book, Riding in Cars with Boys. She looks back over the last twenty years, to the time when she met Ray (Steve Zahn), amiable but none too bright. Then she found herself pregnant, which changed the course of her life entirely…
Beverley Donofrio is a real person, and this is a true story, based on her autobiography. However, the fact that everything in the film really happened doesn’t excuse the film’s weaknesses as drama. It follows a standard plot arc: Beverley finds herself despite adversity in the shape of pregnancy at age fifteen and a none-too-successful shotgun wedding. Unfortunately it’s a little too familiar to be as engaging as it should be. I haven’t read Donofrio’s book, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt: what might be enlivened on the page by the author’s individual voice and writing style simply becomes rather ordinary when presented on screen. This is compounded by an odd scripting decision: Morgan Upton Ward’s screenplay uses a voiceover, but it comes from Jason rather than from Beverley herself. The film seems strangely ambivalent about its central character.
The first half is the more successful: often lively, and showing that director Penny Marshall is more at home with comedy than she is with drama. Once Beverley and Ray settle into marriage, the film begins to drag. At two and a quarter hours, Riding in Cars with Boys is overlong.
Where the film does score, however, is in its acting. Ageing from fifteen to thirty-five for her role, Drew Barrymore gives a performance that I’m willing to bet will earn her an Oscar. She’ll win it on the same principle that won Julia Roberts hers: maybe not the best performance by an actress this year, but a good one that extends her range, from someone who has been seen to pay her dues. And while I’m praising performances, by no means should you overlook Steve Zahn’s. Lorraine Bracco and James Woods are reliably solid as Beverley’s religious parents. On the technical side, Miroslav Ondricek’s camerawork has just the right mixture of romance and grit.
Riding in Cars with Boys contains two strong lead performances, which make the film worth a look. However, the central premise has been used as the material of countless TV movies, and this film isn’t strong enough to overcome its familiarity.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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