So I heard about this movie, Riding in Cars With Boys, starring Drew Barrymore. Despite the criticisms we heard, my sister and I felt a huge compulsion to see it. Drew plays a young woman with a bright future who finds herself pregnant. One by one, the pieces of her life fall into rubble around her, leaving her alone with a son and the hopes and dreams that she can't bring herself to abandon. She struggles through drug addiction, poverty--basically the spectrum of issues that a teenage mom might face--and somehow, at the end of it all, winds up doing okay. There's no fairy tale ending, but there is a sort of practical optimism. This story is very realistic and thoughtful. It also hit a little too close to home.

Directed by Penny Marshall, the film thankfully doesn't try play Beverly (Drew Barrymore) off as a great person. Rather, it foils her struggle with those of her son (Adam Garcia), who loves his mother desperately and yet, has to deal with his own struggles, for which she is largely to blame. At some parts, Beverly is the protagonist; at others, she is a sort of villain. The complexity of the characters is almost too much to take in at once--particularly Steve Zahn's portrayal of Ray, Beverly's drug-addicted and irresponsible husband, who takes on an almost childlike sweetness.

The film, which debuted October 2001, is 2.5 hours of empathy and emotion. So, yeah, okay... maybe it -is- a chick flick. But it's a smart one, and absolutely worth watching.

My mother never allowed this.

"I'm sorry but you can't go in his car."

"But Mooooooom..."

"No buts" - firm shake of her head and a stern look.

I never really understood her reasoning. See - I could only ride with a boy in his car if she had met him, if he guaranteed I would be home by 10:00, and if he was over 18. She used words like responsible, reliable, and capable.

"Boys over 18 are safer drivers," she would repeat everytime I tried to get her to let me go with Randy (who was a mere 16) to Wallyball.

Girls were OK. I could ride with them. She was also all for me getting my license at age 16. (so I could chauffeur my brothers around for the next three years)

"Girls and boys are different. Boys aren't mature enough to handle the responsibility until they are 18."

Yeah right. At 18 my brother got his license. Six months later my Mom was the proud owner of a VW accordion.

I don't think age had anything to do with it. I'm guessing she didn't want me riding in a boy's car for reasons other than what she said. Reasons the over 18 year old boy was more than happy to show me - in the sandy lot - overlooking the airport - by the dashboard light.

Too bad his parents didn't teach him that letting an under 18 year old girl into his car wasn't such a good idea. I think that my mom had been counting on him knowing that little piece of info already. He knows now what she really meant by an 18 year old being responsible.

Regardless of anything else about the movie Riding In Cars With Boys, it captures the essence of being a teenager and a young adult in New England better than anything I've ever seen on film.

I grew up in New England, in Central Massachusetts, and I experienced much of what happens in this movie. I experienced what it is like to long to escape but inevitably being trapped in the same community you grew up in. The heart of the film (I have never read the book) is about just this, and it feels like the towns I used to know as "home." In high school there are those who think they are going to go on to bigger and better things. They believe they are special. This is much like anywhere else in America.

The thing is, the feel of this movie replicates growing up in New England with incredible accuracy. The seasons are just right, down to the filthy frozen streets of winter. What is usually seen as an idyllic snowscape is created to fit the reality. The icy roads are thick with sand and salt, not lovely white, fluffy snow. The drinking party is reproduced with the kind of authenticity that reminds me of too many similar parties I've been to in my lifetime. There is no romanticism to any of it. There are no heroic efforts to drink impossible amounts of booze. There is just a girl who wants to impress someone who is out of her league who ends up meeting the man who will eventually father her child in the bathroom. And that is so extremely New England that it felt like a cliche no one had bothered to explore before.

As a whole, when I first saw this movie, as part of my wife's obsession with watching Drew Barrymore films (she is frequently accused of looking exactly like Drew), the thing that stood out to me was its accurate depiction of growing up in New England. It was something I had never seen before in countless movies of similar subject matter set in New England. I found it to be so accurate that it was unnerving.

And I have nothing else to say about the film other than to again say it is an honest and accurate depiction of what it was like to grow up in New England once upon a time. It reminds me so much of my own life in the 1980s that I barely noticed the rest of the story.

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