RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (Penny Marshall) does a very un-Hollywood thing. It celebrates motherhood by focusing on a woman who has no natural inclination for the job.
Drew Barrymore stars as Beverly D'Onofrio, a sassy 15-year-old who gets knocked up by the sweet but dopey Ray (Steve Zahn). It's the early 60s, so the teenage Beverly and Ray get married even though she wants to go to college.
The film, based on D'Onofrio's autobiography, recounts her hilarious struggle to go to school and change her dead-end life. It also makes a point of showing how a woman can blame a child for her problems. Barrymore, with her believable charisma -- she gives off sparkles instead of megawatt brilliance -- is perfect for the part, although she does struggle through her scenes as a 35-year-old.
Marshall, who's made just as many bad movies (Renaissance Man) as good (Awakenings), is at the top of her game here, allowing her actors the freedom to play against expectations. She's aided by Morgan Upton Ward's smart, unflinching script, which can turn a crowd-pleasing gag into a dramatic revelation in an instant. 122 minutes. NNN