Riding in Cars with Boys achieves broad appeal as a tearjerker laced with hardscrabble humor. In the crowd-pleasing hands of director Penny Marshall, Beverly Donofrio's bestselling memoir loses much of its real-life gravity, but its rich humanity remains in abundance, especially since Drew Barrymore plays Donofrio with effortless charm. The movie spans 20 years, from Bev's pregnancy at 15 in 1963 (actually 17 in the book), through welfare parenthood with a heroin-addicted husband (Steve Zahn), and semi-adult resentment as her teenaged son (Adam Garcia) takes priority over her ultimate goal of finishing college and publishing her memoir. For all of Barrymore's winning tenacity, it's Zahn's goodhearted loser who gives the film its genuine soul while lending an edge to Marshall's cloying sentiment. The material begs for the subtler touch of James L. Brooks (who produced this and Marshall's more delicate hit Big), but that won't stop this movie from attracting a legion of admirers. --Jeff Shannon
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