Drew Barrymore has been tackling comedy (Never Been Kissed) and action (Charlie's Angels) in recent years, and so it was only a matter of time before she got a drama under the belt. Given it is a comedy-drama, Riding in Cars With Boys establishes her as one of the more resilient actresses of today, but aside from the acting not much else.
Riding in Cars with Boys is a true story about a teenage mom who has dreams of becoming an author, but is dragged down by her druggie husband and son, whom she never really has related with. Believe it or not, it is a comedy, managing to draw laughs from even some of the sadder scenes, with some thanks to the venerable Steve Zahn, who I think is one of the more underrated actors out there.
The movie really has everything, dealing with the hardships of being a teenage mother, a family that really hasn't cared for her, a nice but irresponsible husband, and a son that over the years grows to despise his mom. The first half truly does have some funny parts, especially involving the little kid, who does a fabulously cute job, and Steve Zahn, who is definitely a flawed character but comical none-the-less. I respect that director Penny Marshall was able to make a movie like this, blending funny and dramatic moments into one. She must have really sat down and examined every scene to figure out how to make the most of them.
However, she forgot to look at the movie overall, which is flawed only by one thing: length. Riding in Cars is not a long movie (although at 124 minutes some might disagree) but it feels long at times, especially in the last half hour. The funniest scenes are in the first forty-five minutes, and after that is starts to go downhill. Slowly, but still downhill. As already mentioned, each scene is well done, but there is just so much told in the movie that it is overwhelming. Do we really need to see so much depressing situations through the course of one woman's young life? I figured things out after she gets married while in high school, has a kid, finds out her husband uses drugs, and she has a bad relationship with her father. The movie didn't have to go into the other two-hundred details that it examines.
All of the actors show incredible range. Drew Barrymore, obviously, can do comedy, and she does get a chance to shine her. But she also gets to show a more powerful side and, especially in the last half hour, really gets to show it off. It does get a little annoying watching her cry thirty times in the movie, but she still does a good job at it. Steve Zahn, as already mentioned, turns in one of his best performances, but this is the first time I've seen him in a drama like this.
Riding in Cars with Boys is a well done movie, but it needed to chop out about twenty or thirty minutes of scenes. Not much would have been lost in the overall story... there's always the DVD to show off those good scenes that just don't cut it. As a director, Marshall needs to be picky and know what the audience wants, a funny, dramatic, well-paced and short film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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