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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)

"All we were doing was makin' out. I never go past second base with a guy I just met, which means nothin' below the waist."
- Beverly (Drew Barrymore)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 11, 2002

Stars: Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn
Other Stars: Brittany Murphy, Andy Garcia, Lorraine Bracco, James Woods
Director: Penny Marshall

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug and sexual content
Run Time: 02h:11m:11s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 043396064560
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BB+B+ B

DVD Review

Riding in Cars with Boys is not the film that the trailers and TV spots were selling. From the gooey tagline "She did everything wrong, but got everything right," to the comedy-heavy commercials, I was expecting this adaptation of Beverly Donofrio's memoir of her experiences as a teenage mother in the 1960s to be a glossy feel-good coming of age mess (much like Natalie Portman's Where the Heart Is, which is anything but a realistic account of teen pregnancy). I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that Donofrio has been transferred to the screen, warts and all. Finally, a Hollywood biopic that isn't afraid to present an often unlikable main character.

The film begins with Beverly at age 15 (Barrymore plays the title character throughout, and even her youthful face can't pass for someone 11 years her junior), the rebellious daughter of a small town sheriff (Woods). She's got her life all planned out—an aspiring writer who does well in school, she wants to move to New York and become an artist. Her plans are derailed when she gets pregnant and, reluctantly bowing to societal and parental pressures, agrees to marry the father, Ray (Zahn). Once the baby comes, Beverly's life becomes everything she didn't want it to—boring, small, and ordinary.

Beverly is a very selfish character, and Penny Marshall, always a strong commercial director, isn't afraid to starkly present the nastier aspects of her life; likewise Morgan Ward's script avoids glossing over rough patches with a lot of sentimentalism. It's hard to say Bev is ever truly likeable—she's a poor excuse for a mother, blaming all of her problems on her poor little boy, who is subsequently forced to grow up way too fast. The tagline got it right—she makes all the wrong decisions, but everything doesn't turn out for the best, and that's surprising in a Hollywood movie sold as an inspirational story.

It's unfortunate that so few saw what is clearly Drew Barrymore's best performance; she inhabits Beverly completely, and even if she can't pass for 15, she does an admirable job of aging the character from her 20s to her late 30s with only subtle makeup and altered posture and body carriage. Steve Zahn does well with a difficult role, as Ray is the closest thing to a villain in the story; throughout he remains realistic and sympathetic. James Woods steals his few scenes, particularly with his bitter toast at Beverly's shotgun wedding.

There's an elliptical structure that sets up the film as a flashback, cutting from Beverly's youth to "present day" (1986), with Beverly and Jason (now grown) on a road trip together, trying to clear up one loose end that will allow Bev to publish her book (hmm... a movie from a book that features scenes of a character writing said book), and it is in these moments that the story falters. The tone is right—an air of bitter resentment between mother and son, lingering just below the surface—but they interrupt the flow of the story, a problem that could have been avoided with more natural transitions. As is, the flashes back and forth feel forced and awkward. There's also the fact that the story is simply not a very pleasant one. Beverly, whether it was her fault or not, had a hard life, and she messed up her son in the process, so watching her story unfold is far more depressing than inspiring. The too-literal screenplay focuses so much on her hardships that the small successes feel meaningless; as a result, connecting to any of the characters on an emotional level is rather difficult.

Riding in Cars with Boys is an honest movie, honest to a fault.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar consistently does great work with their new releases, and the transfer here is certainly on par. Colors look very realistic and natural, with out any oversaturation or smearing. Likewise, black level is good, and the darker scenes show good detail and shadow delineation. The film elements were in good condition with only some occasional dirt visible, and a varying amount of grain from scene to scene that never kept the image from appearing very film like.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This is a very good, dialogue-heavy track. Speech is always clear and understandable, sounding well supported and natural. What few sound effects there are (cars driving by, mostly) are presented with some directionality across the front soundstage. The surrounds come in to play mostly for atmosphere and to support the score. The pop heavy soundtrack makes good use of the mains, and features a decent amount of LFE.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring A League of Their Own, Charlie's Angels
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actress Drew Barrymore
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Despite the film's rather poor showing at the box office, we've been treated to a nice special edition. Interestingly enough, the major presence in the supplements is not director Penny Marshall, but actress Drew Barrymore. It seems appropriate that she got to contribute so much, since she found the role to be very personal and moving, but that lack of director content did seem odd. Nevertheless, there's some interesting information here, and most of it goes beyond the typical fluff you find on new releases. Maybe the studios are finally getting better at putting some perspective into DVD extras...?

Barrymore contributes her first DVD commentary (dating the recording to pre-December 2001 by commenting several times on her "wonderful" soon to be ex-husband Tom Green) and does a remarkable job. Obviously she's most experienced on the acting side of film production, and she spends most of the track discussing character motivation and her approach in taking on a character based on a real, living person. She talks just about non-stop, and is very funny, personal, and self-deprecating, even mixing in some embarrassing on-set anecdotes.

Four featurettes are offered, and all of them manage to avoid self-promotion. Drew's Trailer Tour covers much of the same material as the commentary, but with exciting visual accompaniment, as Drew discusses playing Beverly as she shows us around her trailer, complete with a Shrine O' Beverly, lots of old photos of the film's real-life counterparts, and even some of Drew's own family, all of it used to inspire her. It's an interesting five minutes, and surprisingly personal. Also includes interviews with Donofrio herself, along with producer James Brooks and screenwriter Morgan Ward.

Bev and Ray's House: Recreating Reality is a three-minute, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of one of the major sets. Revealing that the tiny house was built in pieces on location that could slide into place when needed, it's an interesting look at the technical skills required to pull off even a small movie like this one. The Cars is another three-minute quickie, a back lot tour of the film's stable of period automobiles with actor James Woods and an unidentified man who is, I assume, Auto Wrangler or something. Worth a look, if only for Woods' improvised wisecracking.

The final featurette is Beverly and Jason: Sons and Lovers. This is the best of the four pieces, I think, as it focuses on the real life players in the story, with surprising candor. The real Beverly and Jason talk about their lives, and the publication of the book, and how that helped their relationship. They totally avoid the type of "we've triumphed over adversity" hokum that I expected; like the film, the lives presented in this featurette are those of real people, not creations of a PR marketing machine.

Speaking of, the final major extra is a standard HBO Making-of Special. It runs 22 minutes and covers familiar ground, from the actors describing the story, to a look at the different production departments at work. It isn't a bad piece, actually—one of the less self-aggrandizing ones I have seen, but it does re-use some of the footage from the other four segments, so be prepared for a bit of repetition.

Extras closing out the release include brief production notes (in the enclosed booklet), trailers (for the feature, Marshall's A League of Their Own, and Barrymore's Charlie's Angels), and multiple subtitle streams (though, oddly, there is no Spanish track, despite the presence of Chinese, Korean, and Thai... no Portuguese, either). Note that while Drew mentions deleted scenes in the commentary, and a few snippets even show up in the featurettes, none are included on the disc.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Though it's too long by 15 minutes, plagued by structural problems, and lacking in emotion, Riding in Cars with Boys is praiseworthy as an attempt at creating a "real life" character without glossing over flaws and turning a life into inspirational pap. Beverly Donofrio doesn't always make the right choices, and she's sometimes a profoundly unlikable character, and the film is all the better for it.

 


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