Riding in Cars with Boys Movie Review

Chick flicks can be hard to watch. I'll admit it: It was painful to sit through Beaches. Steel Magnolias was a trial. As a man, even as one who prides himself on being fairly sensitive, there's something almost disturbing about watching films that beg for audience waterworks. In short, don't set me up for an emotional episode. If it's going to happen, let it happen; don't lead me down a fiery path to tearjerker destruction.

Riding in Cars with Boys follows the life of Beverly Hasek (Drew Barrymore) as she takes up the difficult role of motherhood at the age of 15, while at the same time, never giving up her dreams. And, while a quintessential chick flick, Riding in Cars chooses to take a higher road -- a genuine road, filled with life lessons so real you can feel them burning their way down your throat and tugging at that little place inside you that says, "Hey, this could have been me!"

But Riding in Cars with Boys isn't about some obsessive single mother's quest to build a better life. It's about people coping with the impossible. It's proof that even the best of people can't always do the right thing. Barrymore is mostly capable in her role as a struggling teenage mother -- and subsequently mother of an adult and damaged child. Yet it's Steve Zahn, in a supporting role as her husband, who really shines as the loving yet incapable father of Beverly's son. Zahn's character Ray is such a tragic figure, a good man of limited intelligence and even more limited means that his story alone could fill hours of genuine filmmaking. For no matter how much he loves his son, and no matter how much he loves his wife... he just can't get it right.

This is not a film simply trading on moments of tragedy though. There is a strength and cohesiveness to its story that is uncommon in today's quick-cut Hollywood world. Flowing between flashback and flash-forward, Riding in Cars sticks tightly together in a smoothly crafted progression, bringing revelation and surprise along for the ride. And in between moments of satisfaction and amazement, you'll find lovely bits of laughter. Even the most sincere film needs a little joy.

Women will flock to see Riding in Cars with Boys; nothing I say here will change that. Even in the screening I attended, the theater was packed with 'em. Mothers, daughters, sisters, and their friends, crying and hugging and feeling along with each other as only women can do in such a communal situation. And I, a lone man in a sea of womanhood, could easily have drowned in the overflowing ocean of estrogen-soaked tears and giggling feminine laughter. Men, do not despair! Though Riding in Cars is a guaranteed estrogen magnet, there is more here than just an opportunity to pick up weak-minded chicks. Man or woman, anyone can identify with these characters and these lives.

It's rare to see a film that so brings to life the minds and hearts of real characters in the real world without artificially begging for audience response. Here is a film in which emotion happens as a consequence of reality, not as an attempt to suck young women into theatres. I for one plan to embrace it.

Okay, no cars, no boys.


Riding in Cars with Boys Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: PG-13, 2001


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