Boys on the Side (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Drew Barrymore - what a life!

It was only a couple of years ago that Tom Green split up with her because she was "too immature." Where do you go from there? If you are too immature for Tom Green, who's left? I keep waiting for her to announce her engagement to Carrot Top, or maybe Pauly Shore. Of course, I don't have to live with her, so I find her immature, free-spirited ways to be delightful and refreshing.

First she was the adorable little perfect template for a lisping movie child, then we started to hear how wild she had gotten, even in her early teens. Then she turned 18 and it seemed that she just couldn't wait to take out her puppies on camera. Her first few movies after her 18th birthday - topless nudity. Just like that. Bada bing, bada crosby. Doppelganger, then Bad Girls, then Boys on the Side. After that, it seemed that she had gotten her film exhibitionism out of her system, and she kept 'em sheathed for a long time. In fact, she still hasn't really showed 'em clearly in any movie since 1995, because when she finally took 'em out again, almost a decade later, it was for the blurry, darkness-shrouded, dubious, nipple-obscurin', pseudo-nudity of Charlie's Angels 2.

So let's remember the good times, shall we? This time i'ts the girl-bonding classic Boys on the Side, our last clear topless peek at Drew.

It would be easy to hate this film. Boys on the Side is rated 5.9 by guys at IMDb, and 6.7 by women. Normally we require a gender differential of 1.0 before we start calling a flick a chick-flick, but this is an exception. It is not a near-miss, but the real deal, a fully certified chick-flick directed by one of the high princes of Chickflickland, Herbert Ross. I mean this is the guy who directed Steel Magnolias and Funny Lady, so right away we know that at one time he must have had his male genitalia removed and placed in a blind trust.

Check out this plot.

Two women pair up in New York for a cross-country drive to L.A. One is a sloppy black lesbian who has failed as a musician (Whoopi), while the other is a straight white woman (Mary-Louise Parker) who is dyin' of AIDS. When I say this woman is straight, I don't just mean "heterosexual". I also mean straight-arrow, the kind of woman who writes thank-you notes to the butcher for a nice cut of meat, washes her hands after phone calls, wears a neatly pressed blazer to sell real estate, and places all her albums in alphabetical order. If only she could have lived her life without men, because the only guy she ever went home with left her HIV+. Are you starting to pick up those "men suck" female empowerment vibes? 

Mary-Louise is also straight in the sense of heterosexual, which really doesn't work out very well for Whoopi, who ends up falling for her. The two of them set off to L.A. for somewhat murky reasons, and on their way they decide to make a stop in Pittsburgh to visit Whoopi's old friend, a zonked-out space cadet of a nympho druggie (our Miss Barrymore, who else?), who is in an abusive relationship with a scumbag drug dealer, a guy whose mental condition is so far gone that he makes Drew seem in comparison to be as focused and logical as Judge Souter. During this heart-warming visit, the three women end up subduing the guy, hitting him with a baseball bat, duct taping him to a chair, and fleeing. Empowerment rules, dudesses!

Unfortunately for our newly-empowered babes, the scumbag dies, and they become fugitives from the law.

Did I mention that Drew is pregnant, and that the father may be Mr. Scumbag? Or not. Might go several different ways, since Drew has slept with the entire male student body of Carnegie-Mellon University, and one entire sell-out crowd of a Steelers game eight weeks earlier. So we have a dyin' woman, a pregnant murderer, and a rather conspicuous black lesbian takin' a road trip through the heartland, searchin' for America and their own souls and that kind of meaningful crap. And then the murderess falls in love with a handsome and idealistic young cop (Matthew McConaughey) who loves her but is having some trouble with their relationship when he uncovers that whole wacky thing about bludgeoning her last boyfriend to death with a baseball bat.

Yeah, yeah. I know it sounds like this movie sucks. It does have every possible strike against it, but it doesn't actually suck. There is some humor, and all of the melodrama is underplayed to the extent reasonably possible. All of the women's actions lead to reasonable consequences (which means death for one and a jail sentence for another), and the emotions are played with restraint. The situations may start out larger than life, but people end up dealing with those situations in measured and realistic ways. Most important with a soap opera, the character development is deep, the characters are both real and sympathetic, and the actresses knew how to bring them to life. To be honest, all of those positives make up for the preposterously contrived story.  I got into the story and never thought of reaching for the fast-forward because I liked the characters and enjoyed having them in my living room. I think you'll miss Mary-Louise when she's gone, and you'll wonder what will happen to the two who survive.

There was a surprise for me. If I was ever aware that Whoopi could mimic singers, I didn't remember it. She sings one song in the manner of Janis Joplin, and one or two in the manner of Karen Carpenter (!!), and she does a passably good job of mimicry in each case. The few bars she sings of Superstar, accompanied only by her own halting piano work, will bring tears to your eyes, given the context of the film.

So, it's a dyin' woman female empowerment chick-flick all right, but it's not one of those so drenched with estrogen that you guys have to stay away for fear of having your testicles shrivel up. If your significant other forces you to sit through it, you can probably pretend to be interested and work that into some après cinema hanky-panky, and you'll even be charged up by the last clear filmed sighting of Drew's full and ripe young melons.



  • There is a full-frame 4:3 version of the film, as well as a 2.35:1 widescreen version anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.
  • There are no special features.
  • The DVD versions are visually adequate, but not great. In my opinion, both transfers are too dark, and the colors are too muted.



You will have to view the full-frame version on the DVD to see all of Drew Barrymore's nudity

  • Drew shows her breasts to the drug dealer after he has been tied up.
  • Drew also shows her breasts in a sex scene with her cop boyfriend.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.1/10. Strong gender differential. (Women like it more.)
  • Neither a hit nor a bomb. The box office was indifferent. $23 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+, maybe close to a B. It is a surprisingly good chick-flick, much better than I expected. Even though the set-up is over the top, the film works on its own terms, because the characters seem real, and deal with their melodramatic situations in realistic ways. I'm not a great fan of female empowerment films, but I liked the characters, rooted for them, and never fast-forwarded.

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