review for Riding in Cars With Boys on AllMovie

Riding in Cars With Boys (2001)
by Karl Williams review

In a word: yuck. Director Penny Marshall shellacs this comedy-drama with a thick coat of cloying, calculated schmaltz that reeks of the work of her brother Garry Marshall. Drew Barrymore is simply too likable, bright, and fundamentally cute to pull off the harsh, brittle, and self-absorbed role she's tackling here, which stands in marked contrast to the performance of co-star Brittany Murphy, who would have easily been a better choice for the lead. When Logan Lerman turns up as the precocious toddler Jason, it's clear that the filmmakers have entered the clammy, ham-handed zone of the television situation comedy. Even worse, it's the TV sitcom of the 1970s that's being recalled here, an unwise tonal choice that serves to remind viewers of the unpleasant fact that even then, Norman Lear could've handled this material better. There are two good elements here: a wedding toast scene that's as cruelly painful as the rest of the film should have been, and the performance of Steve Zahn as a drug addict who's tragically just smart enough to know he'll never quit. What author Beverly D'Onofrio and her arch, difficult memoir deserved was Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment (1983) or Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted (1999). Instead she got Laverne of Laverne and Shirley both behind the camera and in front of it. Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), in much the same way of Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) several years before it, is wildly off target in understanding the tone required by its source material and thus chalks up to one of the year's major misfires.