November 2, 2001

Smooth Ride

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Drew Barrymore, long confined to such mindless films as Charlie’s Angels and The Wedding Singer, is finally proving her depth as an actress with a performance that sadly hasn’t been matched since she was in E.T. Her latest role, as the harried Beverly D’Onofrio in Riding in Cars With Boys, is a welcome surprise, demonstrating her ability to do more than merely look cute and recite lines.

The strength of Barrymore’s performance lies in the simplicity of the delivery. None of it seems strained or forced; at no point in the film does she seem to be reaching for a laugh or a tear. Rather, she simply performs — doing so with candid grace. In this movie she is actually acting; and it gets results.

Riding in Cars is based on the true story of Beverly, whose life-long dream of becoming a writer is stopped short by an unexpected pregnancy and the ensuing responsibilities that leave her little time to pursue her ambitions. Loosely narrated by her twenty year old son Jason (Adam Garcia), the story of Beverly’s struggle to raise him, manage her irresponsible husband Raymond (Steve Zahn), and deal with a variety of familial and social pressures, is artfully interwoven through flashback with her current attempts to overcome legal issues to get her first novel published.

Director Penny Marshall does a fine job of avoiding the clich