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‘Boys on the Side’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 03, 1995

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Men achieve the status of salad dressing in "Boys on the Side," an engagingly acted, likable, fried green "Thelma & Louise." A bosom buddy movie with a take-'em-or-leave-'em slant, it doesn't bash the testosterone-enhanced -- except for one guy, with a baseball bat. But, like the male-bonding movies upon which it's modeled, it celebrates letting down your hair with your own gender.

Once upon a time, girlfriends would team up to snare millionaires, but here they take on more complicated modern issues: AIDS, spousal abuse, homosexuality and racial insensitivity. For all of that, the story is rich in humor and hope, even though director Herbert Ross invariably succumbs to bathos as he did in "Steel Magnolias."

The protagonists of "Boys" are less fragile flowers of Northern womanhood and are more apt to show mettle than petal. Fed up with their grim Rust Belt lives, unemployed lesbian Jane (Whoopi Goldberg) and straight yuppie Robin (Mary-Louise Parker) set out for California. On the way west, they stop in Pittsburgh to visit Jane's friend Holly (Drew Barrymore), a daffy blonde who joins them to escape her abusive drug-dealing boyfriend.

"I am not going over a cliff for you two," Jane initially informs them, but by the time they've crossed into Ohio, she's learned to shrug off Robin's fastidiousness and Holly's flirtatiousness. When they sight the St. Louis Arch, rising beyond the Mississippi like a giant wicket, they've become close enough for communal toe-polishing sessions.

But in Tucson, where Robin falls ill, they realize they've become an unconventional nuclear family, capable of coping with the troubles that lie ahead. At this juncture, screenwriter Don Roos veers in an altogether unexpected direction. The road movie settles into a messy domestic drama that some will find touching and others downright cloying. If only Whoopi hadn't sung "Close to You."

Nevermind. Goldberg and her co-stars enjoy a rapport that sings of its own accord. Both Goldberg and Parker are playing variations on characters they've played before in "The Color Purple" and "Fried Green Tomatoes," but Barrymore brings something new to the screen, something of a low-rent Carole Lombard.

In the end, "Boys on the Side" is reassuring for citizens of this multi-ethnic society. Like "Lethal Weapon," it offers proof that friendship is possible regardless of color, creed or annoying personal habits. Now if we could just get past this thing called sex.

Boys on the Side is rated R for profanity, nudity and violence.

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