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Riding in Cars With Boys: Special Edition

If Drew Barrymore's enthusiasm were any measure of a movie's quality, Riding in Cars With Boys would sweep the Oscars. The actress jumps into her role as real-life memoirist Beverly D'Onofrio — whose lofty goals and ambitions were derailed when she got pregnant in high school — wholeheartedly, living every twist and turn in Bev's life as if they were her own. But even Barrymore's obvious fervor for the project can't save it from turning into a predictable "feel-good" flick about the power of determination and family ties. A big part of the problem is that the audience is asked to believe Barrymore as both a 15-year-old teenager and a 36-year-old mother of a 20-year-old son; she's too youthful for the latter and not quite youthful enough anymore for the former (meanwhile, as Bev's best friend Fay, the pixiesh Brittany Murphy is utterly convincing as a teenager but hard to buy as anything older than about 23). And then there's the fact that Bev is, frankly, a tunnel-visioned express train of a person who often isn't a very sympathetic character. Yes, it's too bad that she didn't get to go to college because she got pregnant, and yes, it's understandable that a teen mother, herself still immature, would resent her unexpected child, but Bev's bad motherhood quickly gets frustrating. By the time her son Jason (Adam Garcia, who's actually older than Barrymore) is an adult and she's still pushing and pulling at their relationship, you just want to give her a good shake. For all of the film's shortcomings (which also include a script that's a little heavy on platitudes and an occasionally jarring flashback structure), director Penny Marshall does deserve credit for rounding up a strong supporting cast; the stellar Steve Zahn is particularly strong — both funny and vulnerable — as Bev's well-meaning-but-weak-willed husband Ray, and Lorraine Bracco does a nice job as Bev's mother. James Woods, who plays Bev's policeman father, is thankfully more understated than usual, but he still seems miscast as a blue-collar Italian-American '60s dad in suburban Connecticut. It's a symptom of RICWB's main trouble — aiming for realism, but succumbing to a little too much Hollywood along the way. Columbia TriStar's Riding in Cars With Boys: Special Edition features a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that is sharp and clear (other options include French 2.0 and an array of subtitles). Barrymore offers an expressive, expansive commentary track (her first), in which she talks earnestly about everything from her admiration of the real-life D'Onofrio to her relationship with her own mother. Also here are trailers, filmographies, printed production notes, and a set of five featurettes — a 22-minute HBO "making-of" special and four brief pieces about set design, character development, the movie's back story, and the prop cars. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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