Riding in Cars with Boys

Riding in Cars with Boys is a calculated tearjerker that, because of plot issues never accomplishes what it sets out to do. There are good moments in the film, but there are also many moments that feel as if they belong on a daytime soap opera. The movie, directed by Penny Marshall (The Preacher's Wife, Renaissance Man) and adapted by Morgan Ward (A Pyromaniac's Love Story) from Beverly D'Onofrio's memoirs, should tell the life story of D'Onofrio, her teen pregnancy and the eventual failure of her marriage. The film starts with D'Onofrio (Drew Barrymore, Freddy Got Fingered, Charlie's Angels) and her adult son Jason (Adam Garcia, Bootmen, Coyote Ugly) seeking the signed consent of her ex-husband Raymond Hasek (Steve Zahn, Joy Ride, Dr. Dolittle 2) so that she can publish her book. This will be the first time in nearly two decades since she has seen Hasek since she kicked him out of the household. The film then moves between D'Onofrio's past and the present.

As a teenager, D'Onofrio's wish was to leave her suburban town to become a writer in New York. She and her friend Fay (Brittany Murphy, Don't Say a Word, Summer Catch) scheme on ways out while lusting after boys. After a particularly harsh rejection at a party, D'Onofrio meets Hasek. Although he is in no way the right man for her, Hasek is there to comfort her, so she begins to fall for him. D'Onofrio later learns she is pregnant, which horribly complicates matters. After some random melodrama, they marry and move in to a small house. It turns out Hasek has a drinking problem, and later a drug problem. He spends all their money, leaving little for D'Onofrio and their young son (played by Logan Lerman, What Women Want, The Patriot). Slowly, things become worse for D'Onofrio. Because of the pregnancy, D'Onofrio was not able to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer. She had to put everything on hold and raise her son while going to school and somehow finding a way to earn money.

The continual antics of the script keep Barrymore from fully delivering an otherwise good performance. Her character suffers from continual histrionics and emotional swings that are wild primarily for the sake of being wild. It takes some of the realism away from her performance, and feels a tad too melodramatic. Barrymore as D'Onofrio in the present does much better. Here, her old problems are resurfacing, and she also had to deal with new ones from her son. Garcia does well with what little he has. The best person to come out of this is Zahn, who gives the best performance of his career to date. He has a quirky quality about him that makes him look goofy in serious roles and too serious in comedic roles. As Hasek, this quality strikes an effective balance. He is a man trapped between his love for his wife and son and his addictions. As hard as he tries, he cannot handle juggling the two. Hasek is well meaning, but continually confused and himself prone to some wild mood swings.

Hasek is the (unintentional) center of Riding in Cars with Boys. Ward skips over a large part of D'Onofrio's life, beginning with her struggle to success after she kicks out Hasek. Missing is the adolescence of Jason. This omission takes the emotional center out of D'Onofrio's story. No one can see her dreams slowly come to fruition. One minute she is a struggling single mother, the next she is a soon-to-be-published writer. There is no way for the audience to empathize with everything she gained. There are only a large number of vignettes that totter on the edge of sappy and poignant. Instead, the focus is on Hasek. The audience can see his slow downward spiral into alcohol and drugs, with even the love for his son not saving him. Although the movie is supposed to be about D'Onofrio, Hasek is such a tragic figure that one almost wishes there was more of his story in Riding in Cars with Boys.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 12 minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug and sexual content.

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