"Hollywood hypocrisy"

By Amy Benfer.

Published November 2, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Read the story.

Amy Benfer complains that the film version of "Riding in Cars With Boys" takes an "uplifting memoir of a teenage mom done good" and "twist[s it] into a smarmy fable designed to promote abstinence-only sex education."

"Like me, the author, Beverly Donofrio, was a smart teenage girl who got pregnant in high school." Just three paragraphs later, Amy must again assert her mental prowess by stating that "I was, after all, a smart teenage girl." Huh? Out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy? How smart is that?

Statistics show that the vast majority of young unwed mothers will continue to live in poverty the rest of their lives. Their children typically grow up, or should I say, grow older and repeat the same dismal pattern of irresponsible behavior. Amy Benfer admits as much by relating the real Beverly Donofrio's experience when stating "Donofrio's true story -- as she tells it in her book -- shows how much she and her son end up being alike as adults. Like his mother, Jason ... hangs out in the pool hall and becomes something of a high-school slut himself ..."

In quoting from Ms. Donofrio's autobiography, Amy makes the point she claims filmmaker Penny Marshall was trying to make, namely, "'True, we both had failed marriages,' she writes. 'True, we were both on welfare. True, we had little kids keeping us from hitchhiking to California or through Europe joining a commune, and about a million other things we could be doing in the world, but here we were, best girlfriends living together with our kids.' (The movie skips this part, and most definitely never shows the Barrymore Bev on welfare.)"

Amy asks, "Do we really want to raise a generation of kids who believe that mistakes -- or conscious decisions -- cannot be revised and revisited, that 'Life is really only four or five days that change everything'?"

My answer: Yes, we do! It's called "teaching responsibility." Up until recently, every generation of youth has had to learn that some mistakes -- or conscious decisions -- carry lifelong consequences, be it playing with guns, driving intoxicated or using recreational drugs. In the case of "a scrappy working-class girl who gets knocked up, smokes pot and rides around enjoying her youth until she decides it's time to get herself together," the consequences can affect generations.

It seems to me that if Ms. Marshall's film had stuck closer to the real-life experiences of Beverly Donofrio, she would have made an even stronger case that "teenage motherhood [i]s a tragedy with many victims, a terrible mistake that must be derided in art as in public service announcements ..."

-- Austin W. Troxell

If Amy Benfer thinks director Penny Marshall turned "Riding in Cars with Boys" into a two-hour infomercial on teen abstinence and the havoc selfish young parents can wreak in their kids' lives, it might be simply because Marhsall spent some time actually talking to Beverly Donofrio.

"Looking for Mary" is Donofrio's newest book, the story of her wrecked relationship with her son, Jason, her search for faith, and as she's put it already, an apology for "Riding in Cars with Boys." In "Looking for Mary," Donofrio says, yes, she was a selfish mother, she did whatever she wanted to do 24/7 and Jason paid the price. She talks about her relationships with abusive artists in New York, about Jason's therapy and their years of estrangement. She was, she says, deeply, deeply sad. It's only years later, with the unfolding of Donofrio's spiritual life, that she's been able to rebuild her relationship with Jason. It may be that Donofrio had a deep enough sense of conscience to want to keep the world from thinking she was a hero, and a great mom, when in truth, she spent years wracked with guilt about her choices. If that's not the "Riding in Cars" that Benfer knows, at least it's closer to the truth.

-- V. Rueckert

With all due respect, what Ms. Benfer is really saying with her smug self-congratulatory piece is that it is the duty of all those mundane normal people to gladly pay up so she can have all the second chances she wants. Note how she makes the point about welfare (in another smug manner).

Here's the reality. If it weren't for all of us dull, boring types that use protection and carefully avoid her situation until we are in a life position to handle it on our own, there wouldn't be any bank for her brave "bad kids/bohos" to raid. Ms. Donofrio's brave life, which she drones on about, is actually subsidized by all the rest of us. But that is a message of reality deeper than the one she claims was whitewashed out -- and one she will never admit to.

I'm very glad my tax dollars are used to provide schmucks who can't control themselves advanced educations they can use to pontificate to the rest of us. It gives one a warm feeling. No charge, nor any need to say thanks, Ms. Benfer!

-- John Nowicki

By Salon Staff

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