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Directed by Herbert Ross. Written by Don Roos. Music by David Newman. With Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, and Drew Barrymore. A Le Studio Canal+, Regency Enterprises, and Alcor Films release.

Anyone familiar with Herbert Ross's work won't be disappointed with his film Boys On The Side. An outwardly independent singer (Goldberg), a do-gooder real-estate agent (Parker), and a boy crazy teenager (Barrymore) create his female version of the three musketeers. Boys on The Side is the 90's version of Ross's Steel Magnolias: Just as Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and the rest of the cast came together in times of crisis, these three come to realize that the bonds between women are stronger than any of life's problems.

As the film begins, Jane (Whoopi Goldberg), out of work and trying to get to L.A., meets Robin (Mary-Louise Parker) by responding to an ad seeking a cross-country driver. On their way, the two stop in Pittsburgh to see Holly (Drew Barrymore) only to save her from an abusive boyfriend in the process. The three then make it all the way to Tucson before an illness creates the need to set up house there.

As in Steel Magnolias, these women learn to use each other for growth and emotional support. Ross's characters start off as two-dimensional: Jane's a black nightclub singer with an attitude; Robin's a real estate agent who seems to be a parody of a talk-show psychologist; and Holly is a pregnant, drug-using teenager. As the movie progresses, though, we see the strengths and weaknesses of each one. Jane's a lesbian who must overcome her own feelings of misguided love; Robin's afraid of being alone and never realizing her dreams; and Holly's helpless in that she loves men who are bad for her.

Through the course of these revelations, these characters become believable. Whoopi Goldberg portrays Jane as feminine yet masculine. She laughs and cries yet wears men's jeans with work boots. Mary-Louise Parker depicts Robin as superficial until we, the audience, get to know her. It's through this facade that she protects herself from the world. And Drew Barrymore transforms Holly from a self-destructive teenager into a caring responsible mother.

Nevertheless, Boys On The Side has its flaws: its plot is exaggerated and its dialogue is too witty. There's murder, love, pregnancy, and disease all within a week: These characters encounter new problems faster than they solve the first ones. Furthermore, Robin's dialogue is too trite for a network sitcom, while Jane effortlessly spouts classic lines such as, [in reference to Thelma and Louise] "I am not going over a cliff for you two, so just forget it."

Overall, if you liked Steel Magnolias, you'll like Boys On The Side. The two movies have more in common than simply the same director. Whoopi's Jane is part Sally Field, part Olympia Dukakis; Mary-Louise's Robin is part Dolly Parton, part Julia Roberts; and Drew's Holly is part Darryl Hannah, but this film is all entertainment. A-

This movie has high homosexual content. The audience was filled with gays and lesbians on opening night when I went. While the movie cannot just be summed up to dealing with Whoopi's character's homosexuality, it is a key ingredient to the rest of the other plots.


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