Pop Culture Nuclei #3: Riding in Cars with Premium Cable
Spending lots of time in hotels with HBO means watching movies you would normally never make the effort to see. In this case, after waking up to more depressing grey fog after sleeping for 12 hours, I turned on the television and it seemed like more effort to not watch the movie Riding in Cars with Boys. Despite missing the first 10 minutes, I was able to catch up because 1) I was working at a feminist bookstore when the memoir came out and one of my bosses loved it and introduced the author Beverly Donofrio when she gave a reading at the store, and 2) the plot is not so complicated that I even needed a history with the source material. One benefit to missing the credits was that every scene elicited a “whoa! that actor is in this movie?!?” response, enough times that I realized I stumbled upon another Hollywood mitochondrial powerhouse that connects HBO and Showtime of the 00s with the now. Allow me to break it down:
The movie is directed by Penny Marshall (who unfortunately is frequently featured in tabloid headlines as “sick and dying” simply because she looks like an actual 67 year old person, you ignorant bastards). You all know Penny is Laverne from back in the day but now is mostly a feel-good movie director, which makes sense she would direct this movie. It’s not exactly as wholesome as Big and A League of Their Own, but considering it’s dealing with teenage pregnancy, shotgun marriages, heroin addiction, and working-class/working-poor neighborhoods, it’s still pretty funny, in a way that is also uncomfortable. It’s a biopic about a young woman who gets pregnant 15, marries the boy, marriage falls apart later because he’s an addict, her attempts to go to college fall apart, eventually when the son is grown she writes a memoir about it all, so things whiz by real fast in an effort get 20 years done in about 2 hours. Curious to see what Penny Marshall has directed most recently, I see she recently helmed an episode of United States of Tara, Showtime’s latest seriocomic successful series, along with Nurse Jackie – more on that later.
The star of the movie is Drew Barrymore, who was criticized in her portrayal of Beverly, but it’s a story about a charismatic, well-meaning but self-involved young woman singularly focused on the concept of “getting out,” who sometimes make bad choices and sometimes just has bad situations thrown at her, and frequently comes off as an abrasive and uncaring mother. To keep audiences from hating her, I can see why they cast her, and it does help the story; however, while Barrymore leaves more charisma behind in a used tissue than many actors do on screen, she doesn’t quite have the acting chops to dig too deep into pathos territory. The movie itself is compelling to watch, I didn’t mind some of the looseness of the plot, but it’s not a particularly great movie (Roger Ebert loved it, most other critics panned it, and I could see both sides). There’s a scene early on where Beverly is attempting to throw herself down a flight of stairs that is hilarious, and I also stayed watching because her best friend Fay was played by the late Brittany Murphy. It was the first time I’d seen her onscreen since her death, I was drawn towards wanting to remember. Looking Murphy up on IMDB, I found out she’d done a guest spot on the tv show Nash Bridges — as did Penny Marshall (though not the same episode).
Beverly’s baby daddy is played by Steve Zahn, who has starred in 50% of everything, including HBO’s current attempt at being hip, Treme. Barrymore’s father is played by everyone’s third favorite Republican actor, James Woods. Her mother is played by Lorraine Braco, who was concurrently doing work as Dr. Melfi on the HBO darling show of the time, The Sopranos. She wasn’t the only one moonlighting from that set: Vincent Pastore plays Uncle Lou! Fay’s boyfriend Bobby is played by Desmond Harrington, who joined the cast of Showtime’s Dexter last season. Beverly almost escapes to California in one part with paisley shirt wearing Peter Facinelli, who now stars as Edie Falco’s foil in Nurse Jackie. The movie even sprinkled in bit parts by Sara Gilbert, Rosie Perez, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Back in 2001, this movie was considered fairly star heavy, but watching it nearly 10 years later, it’s like Penny Marshall did her best Robert Altman to make this movie, perhaps inspiring the careers of a few HBO and Showtime casting directors in the process as well.