Learning to Drive
Starring Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Grace Gummer, Jake Weber,
Learning to drive is something nearly all of us remember. That mixture of fear and excitement being behind the wheel for the first time on your own. Freedom lies at the edge of the car hood and your hands and feet can take you anywhere. The exhilarating and often daunting task of driving is a central theme applied to our characters who do far more than learn to drive a car. Reteaming for the first time since working together on Elegy, Oscar winner Ben Kingsley (The House of Sand and Fog), nominee Patricia Clarkson (Lars & the Real Girl) rejoin director Isabel Coixet to find small threads of humanity in Learning to Drive. It’s rare to find a film baring Clarkson’s name that doesn’t offer the viewer something enlightening to take beyond the theater.
Words are Wendy’s career, but they leave her when husband Ted (Jake Weber) files for divorce after 20 year of marriage. Devastated by the abrupt change in her life, Wendy (Clarkson) who has never had to drive living in New York City, vows to learn. Her instructor is Darwan (Kingsley), he teaches driving during the day and drives a cab at night. They become unlikely friends; his patience, encouragement and humble nature is exactly what she needs in a time of anger and turmoil. Darwan has agreed to an arranged marriage and its Wendy that becomes unknowingly his source of inspiration. “You can’t always trust people to act responsible,” Darwan tells Wendy on their first driving lesson. “Aint that the truth,” she replies.
Two actors, in an original script doing some of the best work in their careers.
The film begins with the dissolve of a marriage and ends with the start of another one, yet Learning to Drive isn’t a love story between partners, it’s a love story about friends. Sarah Kernochan’s script looks at a variety factors when exploring these two characters, including the difference in their financial circumstances, beliefs, and humor. Both Clarkson and Kingsley are given equal screen time to develop their characters. Two actors, in an original script doing some of the best work in their careers. Clarkson has this ability to convey so many expressions and feelings through her smile, the screen is never more fascinating than when focusing on her endlessly expressive face.
Learning to Drive isn’t groundbreaking or filled with any observations we can’t find in other films. Yet what makes it worth your time is the humanity the actors bring to the roles. The suffering they feel losing their support system, the agony of figuring out the next move at middle age or the happiness they find in a Popsicle from Queens. There are few films that leave you with a feeling of happiness and contentment as you leave the theater. Learning to Drive certainly deals with some bittersweet and difficult subject matter but I can’t think of many films this year that manage to work back around to such a pleasant conclusion.
Clarkson & Kingsley find real movie magic in one of the most pleasant films of the year.