Riding in Cars With Drew Barrymore
Released in 2001 and starring Drew Barrymore in what for me is one of her finest performances, "Riding in Cars With Boys" is a wonderful drama about the turbulent life of a young girl during the 50s which doesn't turn out like she expected. Adapted from Beverly D'Onofrio's hit novel "Riding in Cars with Boys: Confessions Of A Bad Girl Who Makes Good" an account of her own troubled life, it is a movie which draws you in to the evolving life of Beverly. It is without a doubt a surprising movie which combines inspirational glossiness with a little realism to make a fascinating story that is at times sweet and funny yet also slightly upsetting.
As a young girl Beverly (Drew Barrymore - Charlie's Angels) had dreams of getting out of her small town and making it as a writer. But when she meets Ray (Steve Zahn - You've Got Mail) her plans go a wry as she becomes pregnant at the age of 15, something which was neither socially acceptable during the 1950's nor to her very protective father. Forced into marriage by her disappointed father, Beverly find herself living in a shabby home, no money, no career, a drug addicted husband and a little baby to bring up. But despite the whole world seeming to be against her she sets about building a life for herself refusing to settle for what she has.
What makes "Riding in Cars With Boys" stand out from the crowd is the subject matter which it focuses on, teenage pregnancy in an era where it was shunned, drug addiction and being a single parent are not necessarily the sort of material which makes for an entertaining movie but here it certainly does. It is the fact that whilst a commercial movie, made not so much for the integrity of the story but to put bums on seats, it manages to give an insight into a world of responsibility and how relationships can affect those close to us. It is fascinating to compare Beverly's own sweet childhood with a protective father to her own turn at being a parent where her own issues are passed on to her son because of the difference in situation. It's not until you sit back and consider the storyline that you realise how elements from her own childhood force a knock on effect later on in her life.
Secondly "Riding in Cars With Boys" also deals with some heavy issues such as heroine addiction, teenage pregnancy as well as being a single parent but also other issues which are just as important such as unfulfilled dreams. What I like is that not once does it feel like the drama is being cranked up for effect. When Beverly argues with her drug addicted husband it feels real, as if it was one of my neighbours arguing over something less heavy. It is the grip on keeping it real but just dramatic enough so it doesn't feel mundane makes it all the more interesting. It is a fine tightrope it walks in doing so and occasionally fails becoming either to melodramatic or mundane but for the most the balance is spot on and delivers the emotional tale of this eventful life to perfection.
It also helps that Director Penny Marshall has got the best out of Drew Barrymore in the lead role of Beverly. Having always been a fan of Barrymore's the way she becomes the complex character of Beverly being vulnerable yet tough, harsh but kind is marvellous to watch and makes what could have been a flat movie into something very special. In many ways Barrymore takes us on a journey as her character develops from the innocence of youth and being daddies girl, through to the struggling single mother and on. In many ways it's not an easily likeable character because it isn't fluffy or fake but based on a real person with real issues allowing you to connect with it as you would someone in your street.
Barrymore is certainly the star of "Riding in Cars With Boys" and although doesn't carry the movie single handedly is pivotal to its success. But she is accompanied by a fine supporting cast all of which have equally interesting as well as realistic characters. James Woods delivers a brilliant performance as Beverly's father, heartbroken by his daughters pregnancy and restrains everything about it to deliver the sadness and disappointment he is feeling without over the top reactions. Like wise Brittany Murphy delivers a performance which although realistic allows for some lightness to encroach on the storyline, not to the extent of being comedic but humorous enough to make you smile when needed.
Finally there is the performance of Steve Zahn as Beverly's drug addicted husband. Now I actually think Zahn had a difficult job of creating a character which didn't make light of drug use or turn it into a very dark character which would have changed the feel of the movie completely. Unfortunately what he ends up doing is sort of creating a caricature with his character which manages to sit on the fence between light hearted and depressing that does not have the realistic feel about him as the others manage to achieve.
For everything I like about "Riding in Cars With Boys" the realistic drama, the slight touch of humour it is not a faultless movie. At times, and only rarely, certain aspects of the story feel slightly cliché and even a little forced. These rare moments throw the balance of the movie out of kilter and cause the pace to go slightly a wry as it takes time for it to re-establish itself. Whether these moments were true or forced upon in the adaptation of the novel to the big screen I am unsure off, but they do slightly detract from a very good movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Riding in Cars With Boys" is a very good movie, definitely above average and delivers an emotional yet pretty realistic story which enthrals you from start to finish. The sensitive direction of Penny Marshall and the wonderful performance of Drew Barrymore make it such a wonderful movie which doesn't end up being the overly dramatic mess which many similar movies end up becoming.