Riding in Cars With Boys is what finally gets Beverly Donofrio (Drew Barrymore) pregnant. The young man (Steve Zahn) who must then marry her eventually turns into a junkie; Beverly throws him out. Raising her little boy alone, she is permanently prevented from going to college, and must forever wonder whether she is a good mom or a bad one. She loves her son, but her life disappoints her. She writes about it in the book on which this 2001 Penny Marshall film is based.
Anything but disreputable, Riding is felt and attentive to character. Its comedy, however, is lame, and sentimentality sometimes creeps in. The latter might not been so bothersome had scriptwriter Morgan Upton Wood been a little less unflattering toward the young men in the film. Middle-aged men like the one James Woods plays are treated respectfully, but the young guys are either stereotypes or close to it. At the same time, Ward nonsensically compliments women on their compassion with a line Beverly’s husband speaks to his son: “Even total screw-ups they want to help.”
Zahn and, as Beverly’s best friend, Brittany Murphy, provide some winsome seriocomic acting. James Woods is quietly compelling as the heroine’s father, but a redheaded Barrymore founders. She could have been fine, but she chose to be histrionic. Too bad Penny “Laverne & Shirley” Marshall didn’t restrain her.