Riding in Cars with Boys

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Riding in Cars with Boys
Riding in Cars with Boys film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Penny Marshall
Produced by James L. Brooks
Laurence Mark
Sara Colleton
Richard Sakai
Julie Ansell
Screenplay by Morgan Upton Ward
Based on Riding in Cars with Boys 
by Beverly Donofrio
Starring Drew Barrymore
Steve Zahn
Brittany Murphy
Adam Garcia
Lorraine Bracco
James Woods
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Miroslav Ondrícek
Edited by Richard Marks
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • October 19, 2001 (2001-10-19)
Running time
132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $48 million
Box office $35,743,308

Riding in Cars with Boys is a 2001 film based on the autobiography of the same name by Beverly Donofrio about a woman who overcame difficulties, including being a teen mother, and who later earned a master's degree. The movie's narrative spans the years 1961 to 1985. It stars Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, and James Woods. It was directed by Penny Marshall. Although co-produced by Beverly Donofrio, many details from the book and film differ.


In 1961, eleven year-old Beverly "Bev" Donfrio (Mika Boorem) is helping her father Leonard Donofrio (James Woods) get their family Christmas tree. When Leonard asks Bev what she wants this year for Christmas, believing that it's a bike, Bev shocks her father when she says that she wants a bra in order to get the attention of a boy she likes. Leonard tells his daughter that she is too young to be thinking about boys, and ends the conversation. Four years later, Beverly (Drew Barrymore) is now a smart but naive teenager. Her dream is to go to college in New York and become a writer, but her life forever changes when she and her two best friends Fay (Brittany Murphy) and Tina (Sara Gilbert) attend a party together one fateful evening. Fay finds her older boyfriend Bobby, who is about to be deployed to Vietnam, while Bev writes a letter to a popular football player named Sky. Sky reads the contents of the letter aloud to his buddies, and they laugh at her. Beverly flees to the bathroom, where she is consoled by a friendly stranger named Ray (Steve Zahn). Ray defends Beverly's honor and gets into a fight with Sky. They are chased from the party and joined by Fay and Bobby during their quick exit. The four go to a lookout where Bobby and Fay have sex in the backseat. Beverly is overcome by Ray's kindness and has sex with him. Her father, a police officer, drives up and brings them to the police station, where Beverly tries to defend herself and denies that anything happened.

Sometime later, Bev discovers that she is pregnant. She tells Fay, who suggests Beverly talk to Ray before telling her parents. She is in the middle of explaining a plan where she'll move to New York with the baby when Ray tries to propose. He professes his love for her and she reluctantly says she loves him, but doesn't want to marry him. She writes a letter to her parents about her pregnancy and leaves it in their mailbox. When they confront her, her mother says that Bev will get her GED after she and Ray get married. When Beverly says that she doesn't want to get married, she changes her mind when her dad starts crying and says she's ruined both their lives. At her wedding reception, Bev is upset because everyone is avoiding her, prompting Fay to publicly announce that she is also pregnant. Afterwards, Fay explains to Bev that her father wanted her to go live with her brother and put the baby up for adoption, but she and Bobby will be getting married instead. The two girls, although upset, celebrate the fact they will be mothers together.

As the months go by, the girls realize they are missing out on their childhood, prom and an education. Beverly gives birth to a son named Jason, but refuses to hold him because she insists that she had a girl. When Ray tells her they have a son, she bursts into tears. Fay later has her daughter, who she names Amelia. When Jason is three, Beverly is in the running for a college scholarship, but when she tries to drop off Jason with Ray at his carpeting job, he is not there. She is forced to take Jason with her, and the interviewer tells her that she will not get the scholarship because they don't want the recipient to have any distractions. She returns home and takes her frustrations out at Ray for letting her down. Sometime later, Fay confides in Bev that she told Bobby she wants a divorce if he decides to re-enlist in the army. Bobby then told Fay that he does want a divorce because he met another woman named Monsoon while being stationed in Hawaii. Bev and Fay later take mushrooms that were originally Ray's. While talking, Bev reveals to Fay that she's not sure if she loves Jason because she's had to give up so many things for him. Jason then ends up almost drowning when he falls in Fay's pool, but Bev pulls him out in time. She then promises her son that she will try to be more attentive to him.

On Jason's sixth birthday, several people show up to his party. Bev and Fay's old friend Tina is engaged and going to NYU. Bev then sees Tommy, who had a crush on her back in high school. He suggests they all move out to California and he'll help them out. The state will pay for Beverly to go to college. Ray agrees to go too. When they're packing to leave, he goes out to the store but doesn't return. Beverly's mother calls and says she should come over now. Ray reveals he is addicted to heroin and spent all their savings for California on drugs. He starts to detox but sneaks out while Beverly is sleeping. He comes home and tells her it's impossible to quit. She agrees but says since that if he can't, he should leave them because they'd be better off that way. Jason (Logan Lerman) hates his mother for making Ray leave.

Beverly and Fay still want to go to California so they are paid by one of Ray's friends, Lizard, to use Bev's oven so he can dry out the weed. Jason (still mad at his mother) tells his grandfather, and he arrests them. Fay's brother bails her out and she uses the money they saved to bail out Beverly. Fay's brother bailed her out under the condition that Fay and Amelia move near him and promise not to see Beverly again. Jason confesses he was the one who got them arrested and Beverly tells him he ruined their lives and it's his fault Fay and Amelia moved away.

In the present day, Beverly and Jason (Adam Garcia) are driving to see Ray. Jason tells Bev he wants to transfer out of NYU to Indianapolis. She cuts him off saying that's not going to happen and he has to finish his last two years so he can have the life she never got. Jason is in a relationship with Amelia (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and calls her and says he can't move to Indianapolis to be with her. She says she can't make him happy and they hang up, both unhappy. Jason and Beverly arrive at Ray's trailer. They explain Beverly has written an autobiography, which talks about Ray's drug use and a publisher agreed to print it, but only if Ray signs paperwork stating he will not sue them. Ray's wife, Shirley, tells him not to sign it and demands $100,000. Outraged, Beverly screams at him that she'll never forgive him as she storms out. Jason finally speaks his mind saying he needs a minute to recover from seeing a man who hasn't showered in a month and has rotting teeth who is his father. He accuses her of being a bad mother and she yells at him saying she'll never forgive him and walks away.

Ray and Jason share a moment where Ray explains he knew the best thing for his son was to leave and that he thinks Jason grew up into such a nice man because he left. Ray signs the papers and secretly gives them to Jason. Jason goes and finds Bev where their confrontation continues. She says he's so perfect because she was a great mother and he replies that he's so screwed up. He can't even be with the person he loves because she thinks she can't make him happy even though he knows she's the only good thing in his life. He says he knows he ruined his mom's life. Bev is shocked and finally admits how proud she is of him and that he's the one good thing in hers. She tells him to go to Amelia, leaving her in the middle of nowhere, saying she wants him to be happy. Jason then feels remorse for his mother and expresses how much he loves her. Bev asks him if Fay knows and he says yes and that she thinks it's great. Bev is indignant and complains that Fay didn't say anything and they just spoke two nights ago. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, Beverly is forced to call her father. She complains that Jason blames her for everything wrong in his life and asks if he can imagine that. He recognizes that he has been blaming her that same way and starts singing a song they used to sing together and hugs her as they reconcile.



The film received mixed reviews. It currently holds a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 109 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "A film like this is refreshing and startling in the way it cuts loose from formula and shows us confused lives we recognize ... This movie is closer to the truth: A lot depends on what happens to you, and then a lot depends on how you let it affect you".[1] In his review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden praised Steve Zahn's performance: "It is hard to imagine what Riding in Cars With Boys would have been without Mr. Zahn's brilliantly nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Ray, who goes through more changes than Beverly".[2] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and found that the "strength of the movie lies in these performances and in the situational humor, though ultimately the ending is disappointing, attempting to wrap up loose ends far too neatly".[3]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C+" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "Which is to say, every scene is bumpered with actorly business and production detail that says more about nostalgia for the pop culture of earlier American decades than about the hard socioeconomic truths of being a poor, young, undereducated parent".[4] In her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley criticized Drew Barrymore's performance: "Barrymore, a delightful comic actress, has the spunk for the role but can't do justice to the complexities of Beverly's conflicted personality. So she comes off as abrasive and neglectful as opposed to headstrong and ambitious, winning no empathy for this sour single mom".[5] Edward Guthmann also had problems with Barrymore's performance in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle: "She never relaxes, never surrenders to the character, but instead tries to justify her and to make us like her despite her selfishness and poor mothering. American actors as a rule are terrified of playing unsympathetic characters, particularly when they've gained the celebrity and box-office appeal that Barrymore has".[6] In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan criticized the film's direction: "At home with the comedy, even if it is too broad, the director brings next to nothing to the serious scenes; they simply sit there on the screen, empty and forlorn".[7]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #2 at the U.S. Box office raking in $10,404,652 USD in its opening weekend, behind From Hell.


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  2. ^ Holden, Stephen (October 19, 2001). "A Girl's Charmed Life Detours Down a Bumpy Road". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-02. [dead link]
  3. ^ Puig, Claudia (October 18, 2001). "Charming Barrymore lightens Boys journey". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  4. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (October 18, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  5. ^ Kempley, Rita (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars: Gimme a Brake". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  6. ^ Guthmann, Edward (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars makes a bumpy, irritating trip". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  7. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-09-02. [dead link]

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