Sunday, September 15

‘Boys On The Side’ is bland on the screen


‘Boys On The Side’ is bland on the screen

Despite excellent performances by actresses, film fails to reach
potential

By Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Staff

Hollywood likes female friendship films.

A story of female bonding in times of danger, sickness and
health, Boys On The Side is reminiscent of Terms of Endearment and
Thelma and Louise with a helping of Fried Green Tomatoes thrown in.
It comes from director Herbert Ross, who brought us Steel
Magnolias, another film dealing with similar issues.

Boys begins when Jane (Whoopi Goldberg), a freewheeling, cynical
nightclub singer, decides to leave New York for the West Coast.
Having spotted an ad placed by a real estate agent named Robin
(Mary-Louise Parker), Jane agrees to share the ride. Her instincts
advise against it, however: Robin seems about as freewheeling as a
nun, prompting Jane to call her "the whitest woman on the face of
the earth."

Much is made of their differences: Compulsively neat Robin likes
to hum Carpenters’ tunes, whereas Jane smokes, swears and sings
funk. Watching The Way We Were in a motel room, Robin is moved to
tears, Jane to laughter.

When the women stop in Pittsburgh to visit Jane’s outrageously
irresponsible pal Holly (Drew Barrymore), things take an unexpected
turn. Holly’s drug-dealing boyfriend has been abusing her, and Jane
and Robin resolve, in a strangely comic sequence, to get her out of
that crisis. What they later learn is that they have fled a crime
scene.

Boys starts off as a road movie, and it seems promising. Jane,
Robin and Holly are a quirky trio. These women even seem to inhabit
the same cinema-visiting universe as their audience: As they speed
away from Pittsburgh, Jane insists, "I’m not going over a cliff for
you guys," a reference to Thelma and Louise.

Things never get quite that dramatic, as when Robin suddenly
falls ill the three decide to stop in New Mexico for a few months.
At this point, Boys turns from a comic road movie into a melodrama.
Although there are moments when the film straddles that fence
compellingly, it never quite rekindles the spark of the earlier
scenes.

To heighten conflict, each woman has been given a dilemma
impacting the others. Jane is a lesbian, which comes as a surprise
to the unsuspecting, straight-as-an-arrow Robin. Holly is not only
promiscuous, she is also pregnant. And Robin’s illness forces the
others to make unexpected compromises.

At its most fundamental level, Boys is a love story. As these
three women are brought together in times of crisis, they overcome
their differences and learn to share a special intimacy.

But while the film plays lip service to issues of gay tolerance
and multiculturalism, it doesn’t really cover any new ground.
Jane’s lesbianism is given a typically "Hollywood" treatment: It’s
OK to show a lesbian as long as she isn’t kissing anyone. And
whatever cultural differences exist between them are smoothed over
for the sake of narrative.

Boys on the Side is at its best when it doesn’t indulge its
maudlin tendencies. The moments of humor far more effectively
convey the times of stress and tension than do the tearful scenes,
particularly the ending, which is unabashedly sentimental.

The three actresses deserve credit for making their parts
sympathetic, especially Parker, who goes from being an annoyingly
prudish character to a strong, sensitive woman. That the film fails
to surpass the typical, glossy Hollywood production is not their
fault. But one is compelled to wonder, with such fertile material
for a film, how much better it could have been.

FILM: Boys On The Side. Written by Don Roos, directed by Herbert
Ross. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew
Barrymore. Opens today.

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