Good Movie/Bad Parenting
Riding in Cars with Boys
Review by Ross Anthony

Snapshot-perfect pictures from 1960's east coast US roll across the screen: a Christmas tree strapped to the roof of an Andy Griffith Mayberry black and white squad, socks toasting on the radiator, mom taping curlicue hair locks to her cheeks. Unfortunately, soon after little Beverly hits puberty her perfect little life becomes a frustrating yarn of tangents and distractions.

Beverly's (Drew's) clan of bubbly teenage girls mixes with the boys. Drew (the smart one) writes poetry in hopes of attracting the school's hottest jock. Brittany (the sexy dresser) finds her magnet in clothing. While Lorraine uses a more direct method. Eventually, two out of three find themselves more quickly married and with children than they had ever imagined. Drew's father (James Woods) refuses to pretend that everything is all right, "The mother's fifteen, the father's a moron and we're supposed to celebrate?"

Thus begins an extended string of disappointment and blame that resolves abruptly at the climax. Expertly crafted acting, directing, cinematography; the script and score could have used some work. With just a little careful editing, this already rich and potent script could have been spectacular; as is, it's still very good. Running over the 2 hour mark, "Riding/Cars/Boys" makes some strong points, builds extremely well for the first hour, then levels off - displaying more of the same for another forty-five minutes before choosing an ending somehow foreign to its base.

There are many things to like about this film. Barrymore, Woods, Murphy ("I'll never tell"), Zahn all perform marvelously -- armed with rock solid art direction and dialogue. However, what really sticks out in my mind is the odd little irony that the story (dominated by Drew's perspective) seems to be being told (narrated) by Drew's 19 year old son (via flashbacks, memories, etc.) as the two drive cross-country. "Life is four or five big days that change everything."

Though always finding a way to lighten its weightiness with a chuckle, the film fields some pretty heavy subject matter from premarital sex and pregnancy to dysfunctional parenting. Actually, it's not a bad training picture for rookie adolescents (learning by counterexample).

Drew, "We're supposed to be a team, right?"
Seven year old son, "No, you're supposed to be the mother and I'm supposed to be the kid."

WARNING: The next paragraph, while not spilling too many beans, may talk about the ending more than you'd like to hear. If this concerns you, then don't read it.

In a scene about fifteen minutes from the end, the older Jason (the son) hangs up a café pay-phone holding two coffees in his hand, Drew storms out of the restroom and beckons him on, "Let's go." The cam cuts to Jason's face, a close up reveals the huge pause in his eyes. Jason has been tormented by his mother for his entire life, why not end the film here? I would have him simply say, "No." Drew of course, won't take him seriously (in line with her character), "Oh come on Jason. I'm going to the car, if you're not there in one minute, I'm leaving without you." Cam on expressionless Jason, he doesn't budge. Drew pathetically starts the engine to coax him on ... even drives around the block. She's so far into herself that by the time she considers that Jason might be serious, he's gone. Perhaps he's left a letter at the cafe, perhaps we just cut scene to find him riding in the back of a taxi watching the snow-frosted branches go by. Either way, the theme, "At some point somebody has got to say enough is enough, and break the chain."

  • Riding in Cars with Boys. Copyright © 2001. Rated PG-13.
  • Starring Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, James Woods, Brittany Murphy, Lorraine Bracco.
  • Directed by Penny Marshall.
  • Screenwritten by Morgan Ward, source writer: Beverly Donofrio.
  • Produced by James L. Brooks and Beverly Donofrio at Columbia.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:55:35 PDT