It is a road movie with a love affair, an illness, and relationship problems, but this time around the disease is AIDS, and the love affair is between two women.
Take a bunch of traditional elements, add a 90s twist, give it a shake, and you have "Boys on the Side." It is a road movie with a love affair, an illness, and relationship problems, but this time around the disease is AIDS, and the love affair is between two women. The good news is that the first half of the movie is played for laughs and gets them.
Jane (Whoopi Goldberg) is the lesbian, Robin (Mary-Louise Parker), a smart gal with a problem, and Holly (Drew Barrymore), a refugee from a lover who is an abusive cretin. During the long drive to Tucson, their personalities bubble up in comic conflict. The rational, orderly, sensible Robin appears to be, but of course isn't, a Donna Reed retread whose favorite road songs are Carpenter hits. Jane is a rock singer who has seen enough of life to be relaxed and flexible about whatever comes her way.
The odd couple is joined at the last minute by Holly, who jumps aboard with nothing in hand but a flirtatious spirit that is ignited by every man she meets. She's all attitude with platinum hair and bright red nails, and she's thoroughly incorrigible. Together they make crazy, zany, flaky fun on the kind of journey that washes even the most conservative of women in a freedom that only the open road can offer.
The problems start when the road trip ends. Once in Tucson, the movie shifts abruptly to a leaden focus on the serious problems each has brought from her old life. It turns sad. The sad side of comedy is usually implicit and doesn't need to be hammered home as it is here. Director Herbert Ross lets sweetness turn to melodrama.
As long as it stays on the wacky periphery of the American highway culture, it's a good time. Enjoy the airplane sitting in a suburban backyard. And be grateful that, just as we feel the movie slipping away, Ross whips us back up, mercifully, with Holly's exactly right love affair with a straight cop, who is thrilled she is pregnant with another guy's child.
The performances save the movie. Whoopi Goldberg makes the most of her wise tolerance for the foibles of others, wringing many of the laughs from her reactions to the antics of her friends. Mary-Louise Parker lights up a fairly grim role with some inspired kidding around on the road, rising to full flower as the mediator of a comically horrible fight between the cretin and the flirt.
Drew Barrymore has a true comedian's enviable ability to telegraph what's coming without overdoing it, greatly prolonging the fun. She is delightful as the thickheaded, sweet-spirited flirt. If you want an hour of good laughs against a landscape of 90s dilemmas, then this one's for you. It is surely weakened by the final melodrama, but it still beats staying home to pay the bills.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 491
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: R 1h57m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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