Riding in Cars with Boys
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPenny Marshall
Screenplay byMorgan Upton Ward
Based onRiding in Cars with Boys
by Beverly Donofrio
Produced byJames L. Brooks
Laurence Mark
Sara Colleton
Richard Sakai
Julie Ansell
StarringDrew Barrymore
Steve Zahn
Brittany Murphy
Adam Garcia
Lorraine Bracco
James Woods
CinematographyMiroslav Ondříček
Edited byRichard Marks
Music byHans Zimmer
Heitor Pereira
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • October 19, 2001 (2001-10-19)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$47 million[1]
Box office$35.7 million[2]

Riding in Cars with Boys is a 2001 American biographical film based on the autobiography of the same name by Beverly Donofrio, about a woman who overcame difficulties, including being a teen mother, and who later earned a master's degree. The movie's narrative spans the years 1961 to 1986. It stars Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, and James Woods. It was the last film directed by Penny Marshall.[3] Although the film is co-produced by Beverly Donofrio, many of its details differ from the book.


In 1961, 11 year-old Beverly "Bev" Donofrio rides with her father Wallingford, Connecticut police officer Leonard. She asks for a bra for Christmas to get the attention of a boy, but he tells her she is too young and to focus on books.

In 1965 intelligent but naïve Bev's dream is to go to college in New York City to become a writer. Joining her friends Fay and Tina at a party, Fay's older boyfriend Bobby is being deployed to Vietnam while Bev gives a love letter to popular boy, Sky. He reads it aloud so she flees to the bathroom where she's consoled by Ray, a stranger who defends her honor by fighting with Sky.

Bev and Ray with Fay and Bobby, flee the party and go to a lookout where Bobby and Fay have sex. Bev is overcome by Ray's kindness so they do too. On duty, Leonard catches and takes them to the police station and Bev claims that they only kissed.

Bev tells Ray she's pregnant and initially turns down his offer to get married but later agrees to a hasty wedding to placate her parents. At the reception everyone is avoiding Bev, so Fay publicly announces she is also pregnant. As Fay's father wanted her to put the baby up for adoption, she and Bobby will get married instead.

The girls celebrate that they will be mothers together but lament missing out on their childhood, the prom, and an education. Bev has a son, Jason (upsetting her, as she wanted a girl) while Fay has daughter Amelia. Bev continues studying. When Jason is three her interview for a college scholarship goes badly as she has to take Jason along. Although the interviewer praises her writing, he fears she is too distracted.

Later, Fay reveals that she and Bobby are getting divorced as he met someone else. Bev tells her she's not sure if she loves Jason because his birth has cost her so much. When he almost drowns in Fay's pool, Bev vows to be more attentive.

At Jason's seventh birthday party, several people from Bev's high school come; Tina is engaged and going to NYU and Tommy, who had a crush on Bev, just graduated from Berkeley. He suggests she move her family to California to get her degree as the state offers financial aid. Although initially agreeing, Ray confesses to being a heroin addict and spending their savings on drugs. Bev helps him detox but he sneaks out to get more drugs. Saying he can't quit, she tells him to leave. Ray agrees but young Jason chases after him, telling Bev he hates her.

Two years later, Bev and Fay help Lizard (Ray's friend) to dry weed in Bev's oven to get money to study in California. Jason, still bitter, tells Grandpa Leonard who arrests the mothers. Fay's brother bails them out but only if Fay and Amelia move with him and cut off contact with Bev, so she blames Jason.

In 1986, Bev and Jason are driving to see Ray. She has a college degree and needs Ray to sign a waiver to publish her memoir. On the way, Jason tells her he wants to transfer from NYU to Indiana University but Bev refuses as he must get the education she couldn't.

Jason calls his now-girlfriend Amelia with the bad news, who is dejected but not angry. Arriving at Ray's trailer, Bev explains why they are there. When his wife Shirley demands $100,000, Bev storms out. Jason follows, calling her selfish for only caring about her book when he finally got to see his father again. He accuses her of being a bad mother and she stomps off. Ray tells Jason leaving was the best thing he could have done for him and that is why he turned out so well. He sneaks the signed papers to him.

Jason finds Bev who insists she was a great mother who sacrificed everything for him. He reveals he is transferring to be with Amelia and apologizes for ruining her life. Bev softens, telling him she is proud and that he is the best thing in her life. Feeling responsible for her mistakes and poor choices she gives him her car to drive to Indiana.

Beverly calls her father Leonard for a ride. Complaining that Jason blames her for everything wrong in his life, she realizes that she herself has done the same to him. Together, they sing a song from her childhood as they drive away.



Riding in Cars with Boys received mixed reviews. It holds a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 109 reviews with an average rating of 5.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Riding in Cars with Boys suffers from mixing grit and pathos with cuteness and comedy. Ironically, many critics found Zahn's character more compelling and three-dimensional than Barrymore's".[4] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "A film like this is refreshing and startling in the way it cuts loose from formula and shows us confused lives we recognize ... This movie is closer to the truth: A lot depends on what happens to you, and then a lot depends on how you let it affect you".[5] In his review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden praised Steve Zahn's performance: "It is hard to imagine what Riding in Cars With Boys would have been without Mr. Zahn's brilliantly nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Ray, who goes through more changes than Beverly".[6] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and found that the "strength of the movie lies in these performances and in the situational humor, though ultimately the ending is disappointing, attempting to wrap up loose ends far too neatly".[7]

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C+" rating, and wrote, "... every scene is bumpered with actorly business and production detail that says more about nostalgia for the pop culture of earlier American decades than about the hard socioeconomic truths of being a poor, young, undereducated parent".[8] In her review for The Washington Post, Rita Kempley criticized Barrymore's performance: "Barrymore, a delightful comic actress, has the spunk for the role, but can't do justice to the complexities of Beverly's conflicted personality. So she comes off as abrasive and neglectful as opposed to headstrong and ambitious, winning no empathy for this sour single mom".[9] Edward Guthmann also had problems with Barrymore's performance in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle: "She never relaxes, never surrenders to the character, but instead tries to justify her and to make us like her despite her selfishness and poor mothering. American actors as a rule are terrified of playing unsympathetic characters, particularly when they've gained the celebrity and box-office appeal that Barrymore has".[10] Giving the 2 out of 4 stars, Ron Weiskind of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it "a troubling trip" and "is one bumpy ride".[11]

Box office

Riding in Cars with Boys made $10.8 million during its opening weekend, ranking in second place below From Hell.[12] It grossed $30.1 million in the United States and $35.7 million worldwide. Compared to its $47 million budget, the film was a box office bomb.[2]

Home media

Riding in Cars with Boys was released on DVD and VHS on March 19, 2002.[13]


  1. ^ "Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)". The Numbers. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Riding in Cars with Boys". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  3. ^ Grow, Kory (December 18, 2018). "Penny Marshall, Director and 'Laverne & Shirley' Actress, Dead at 75". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  4. ^ Riding in Cars With Boys (2001), Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved August 24, 2021
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  6. ^ Holden, Stephen (October 19, 2001). "A Girl's Charmed Life Detours Down a Bumpy Road". The New York Times. p. 22.
  7. ^ Puig, Claudia (October 18, 2001). "Charming Barrymore lightens Boys journey". USA Today. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  8. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (October 18, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys". Entertainment Weekly.
  9. ^ Kempley, Rita (October 19, 2001). "Riding in Cars: Gimme a Brake". The Washington Post. p. 37.
  10. ^ Guthmann, Edward (October 19, 2001). "'Riding in Cars' makes a bumpy, irritating trip". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  11. ^ Weiskind, Ron (October 19, 2001). "'Riding in Cars with Boys'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  12. ^ "'From Hell' narrowly edges past 'Cars'". Daily Press. October 22, 2001. p. 2. Archived from the original on September 2, 2022. Retrieved September 2, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  13. ^ Godinez, Victor (March 8, 2002). "Heroes of the past are resurrected". The Dallas Good Morning News. Sun Herald. p. 98. Archived from the original on April 8, 2023. Retrieved April 8, 2023 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon