It isn’t a typical Penny Marshall film. Usually her films tickle your funny bone as they touch your heart – think of Big and A League of Their Own.
Riding in Cars with Boys is based on a memoir by Beverly D’Onofrio. Drew Barrymore is Beverly. She is pretty and smart as a youngster, with loving parents in a nice home in Connecticut.
Beverly’s father is a policeman in the town and he has high expectations for her. He’s a caring parent but he cannot cope with his daughter’s emerging sexuality. She’s out there on her own.
At 15, Beverly is a beauty, with a bright college career in front of her. But she also becomes pregnant. The baby’s father, Ray, is a young drifter, with no education and no ambition. Beverly’s college dreams disappear when she has to marry Ray and her father uses the college money to buy them a house.
Ray never has a steady job and he drinks a lot. Beverly can never fulfill her college aspirations and is continuously frustrated by Ray’s inability to sympathize. Her son, Jason, is an irritant and an obstacle to her.
The movie starts when Beverly is in her mid-30s, and tells the story in flashback. The sum of it is that her obsession with her own ambitions has caused pain and grief for everybody close to her.
She is never able to see her life as an integral part of a family – her parents, her husband, her child. It’s always all about her; everything that happens is only happening to her.
It took a while for me to get involved with this story and the character of Beverly. But eventually I became interested and then totally absorbed. Beverly leaves a trail of broken hearts in those who care about her and at the end we ask if she is capable of finally looking outward from herself.
Barrymore is good as Beverly. James Woods is very good as Beverly’s father. The best performances in the film, by far, are by Steve Zahn as husband Ray, and by young Logan Lerman in the role of Jason at age 8. The helplessness and haplessness of these two characters at the hands of the self-centered Beverly is heart-wrenching.
Riding in Cars with Boys is at the Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.