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‘Boys on the Side’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 03, 1995

In "Boys On the Side," a three-sister variation on "Thelma & Louise," road pals Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew "I'm okay now, really" Barrymore head for points west, with manslaughter behind 'em and nothing but new world utopia ahead. You'd better get on board or thumb yourself a different ride.

May I strongly advocate the latter?

Cool-cat musician Goldberg, who recently broke up with an unseen girlfriend, has just been fired from her latest East Village gig -- possibly because she keeps pretending to play the piano, Laurie Partridge style. She decides to pack up and head to L.A., where the real music is. She answers a rider-needed ad placed by Parker, a finicky real estate agent bound for San Diego. And now they are two.

The movie pulls over like a stalled 16-wheeler as screenwriter Don Roos celebrates the stark differences between his walking, talking cliches. Goldberg -- the life-affirmative free spirit -- wears a leather jacket and shades, smokes cigarettes and tells it like it is. Parker is uptight, loves the Carpenters and tears up when she watches "The Way We Were." When Goldberg lends her a pair of earphones on the car trip, she spritzes them before putting them on.

"You could have been Donna Reed in another life," Goldberg tells her.

On the way, they stop in Pittsburgh to visit Barrymore, Goldberg's scatterbrained buddy, who is living with an abusive, paranoid, blackout-prone drug dealer. After a brutal altercation with her boyfriend, Barrymore finally leaves her man and joins the ride west.

There are surprises and episodes galore, enough for three bad road movies. To name but a few, strait-laced Parker doesn't know about Goldberg's sexual preference; and no one knows what secrets lie in the real estate agent's past. There are men to meet, including understanding bartender James Remar and buzz-headed Matthew McConaughey as a goofy cop called Abe Lincoln.

Roos and director Herbert Ross pave the long and grinding road to self-fulfillment with miles and miles of counterfeit poignancy. If these characters experienced any more bittersweet moments they'd be written about in the Guinness Book of Records. Roos and Ross (and I promise never to put those names together again) are so busy jerking the audience from wacky to teary, and back again, they seem blithely unaware of the howling melodrama of it all. Anyone, for instance, who would direct Whoopi to sing the Carpenters' "Close to You" without irony, and in a voice more wavery than a panicked 911 caller, needs to have his artistic sensibilities strenuously road-tested.

BOYS ON THE SIDE (R) -- Contains nudity, profanity and situations that could induce aesthetic convulsions.

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