|RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (2001)|
|"I didn't go past first base which means nothing below the waist...my waist not his."|
|Time: 132 mins.|
The two things that save this from being a run of the mill movie-of-the-week is the cast and the setting. The fact that it's "based on a true story" means nothing since the tale of a life derailed by teen pregnancy is not a new one. The era the 1960s puts something of a spin on the situation since getting pregnant as a teen in those days pretty much ostracized you from decent society. Barrymore's character now faces a life she doesn't want, nor believe she deserves. We're told that she's special and should have gone on to great things instead of being a single mom barely making ends meet. Yet that spark is never unleashed. It's all anger and self-doubt from start to finish. It's wonderful that she eventually beats the odds and is able to make her dreams of becoming a writer come true. However, her road to success, and maturity, is a fairly annoying one. Even Barrymore's inherent likability isn't enough to save her character's bitter disappointment and myopic selfishness from bringing the entire film down.
Beverly's problems begin the night she meets Ray (Zahn). Humiliated by the man of her dreams, she settles for Ray because he attempts to regain her honor. What she fails to realize is that her knight in shining armor is nothing more than a directionless loser. Sure, he's sweet and he really cares for her, but he's not exactly husband material. Once she gets pregnant, her parents don't really give her a choice. Her despair is slightly lifted when she discovers her best friend Fay (Murphy) is pregnant as well. However, the baby's arrival brings further disappointment. It's a boy. Now she has to care for two males while trying to finish high school and prepare for college. Despite her best efforts, life continually seems to conspire against her.
Her only source of happiness is her friendship with Fay. Motherhood is far from easy, especially when you marry men who can barely tie their own shoes. Together they manage to get through the trials and tribulations life throws in their direction. Beverly doesn't mind being a loser in love. What she can't stand is the thought of only being a mother. It takes a lot of seriously bad mistakes for her to realize that her obsession with attending college is what's ruining her life, not her failure to get there. In the end, she uses her own experiences the worst years of her life to make her dream of becoming a published author come true.
While this should be an inspirational story about overcoming obstacles and finding joy in motherhood, it's a study in how one unbelievably dumb decision can wreak havoc on your life for years to come. It's a film every parent should show their preteen daughters as a deterrent for sex. Maybe they'd think twice after watching Barrymore bitch and complain for over two hours. Yes, even good girls get knocked up, and even though this is a true story, I find it unbelievable that it happens to Beverly. No girl that obsessed with her future would throw it all away for a quickie in the backseat of a Chevy. I don't care if the loser rescued her from the arms of Death himself. Then she compounds the awfulness of the situation with every breath she takes. It's no wonder it took years for her to make it to NYU. Her decision-making skills are appalling. Granted, she's not an adult, but it's a sad day when the child shows more maturity than the parent.
Her behavior as an adult fails to improve. Since she had to wait 20 years to achieve her goals, she's going to make damn sure that Jason lives the life she never had whether he wants to or not. The present day scenes, with Jason as a young adult, are even more obnoxious than the flashbacks. How Barrymore found anything about this character worthwhile is beyond me. It may be more complex than playing an "angel," but it's far less entertaining for the viewer. Perhaps the book is less grating than the film. As it stands, this is about as painful and enjoyable as watching a train wreck. Bracco, Woods and Zahn manage to bring some joy and positive energy to the film. Unfortunately, their parts are too small to really matter. The story uncovers the true difficulties of teen motherhood, which is important, but in a far from compelling or empathetic manner. Even fans of Barrymore should beware of this downer. It appears that Penny Marshall is losing her touch. This film lacks the humor, honesty and humanity of her past efforts.