A review of  Riding in Cars With Boys” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language, mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

 

Drew Barrymore gets an A+ for effort as Beverly Donofrio, an unlikely heroine whose coming-of-age is a laborious journey.

Flashback to Connecticut, 1961. Beverly’s pre-adolescent existence is chock full of the promise of discovery and young love.  As a precocious fifteen-year old, Bev dates and gets knocked up by thick-as-a-plank Raymond (Steve Zahn). Her dreams of college and short-story writing shatter when her parents (Lorraine Bracco and James Woods) insist that she marry the loveable loser.  Beverly is far from the perfect wife and mother.  She resents her son Jason (played by a growing series of adorable child actors), pines for her lost youth, and takes exception to the lifestyle that Ray offers her with his half-hearted toiling as carpet-layer and air repair man. 

A series of keen disappointments, including a pivotal failure at landing an important scholarship (facilitated by Ray’s absentmindedness), send the marriage into a death spiral.  Bev insists that Ray be gone – forever - so that she and Jason can have a shot at pursuing her dreams. 

Played in a series of flashbacks, this comedy-drama is a rough combination of highs and lows, based on the time period and the onscreen histrionics. The longevity of Beverly’s closest friendship is a warm counterpart to the sordid nature of a junkie spouse and a consistent theme of maternal child neglect.  Said abuse is tenuously played for laughs, but I found it unbearably painful. 

Barrymore ages from fifteen to mid-thirties with professional aplomb.  Ever the savvy Hollywood player, she also manages to surround herself with a startling array of talent, including red-hot Brittany Murphy as best friend Fay and Adam Garcia as the grown-up Jason.  Zahn is excellent as the good-natured stoner who means well, but can’t measure up to Bev’s exacting standards.  Based on Beverley Donofrio’s real-life story, this is a cautionary tale of heartwarming, and irritating, proportions.