“You can’t always trust people to behave.”
Wish my driver’s ed teacher was as sage-like as Ben Kingsley. For 21 years, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), and Ben (Jake Weber) have been in holy matrimony. Those 21 years have been far from perfect, but somehow the two have been able to manage the occasional rough waters. However, their marriage comes to an abrupt end after Wendy finds out about Ben’s cheating. It is not so much her wanting to end the marriage, but him, actually.
With her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) up in the farmland of Vermont, Wendy is all alone in the Big Apple, and now, her inability to drive a vehicle is more of a problem than it was before, because it is the only way to see her daughter. She enlists the help of driving teacher, Darwan (Ben Kingsley), an Indian Sikh with his own love issues. The two find strength in one another, learning more than just driving.
In this film, the title Learning to Drive means two things. The first meaning is of course super-obvious, dealing with the task of the main character being taught on how to operate a motor vehicle. The second meaning is an extension of the first, but ultimately, the film is about taking control of one’s own life, not being reliant on someone, some ideal, or some entity to get to a figurative destination. If you have an idea on the type of film Learning to Drive is by looking at the poster, it’s probably a correct one. But, if looking for a somewhat different romantic flick, it may be worth to give this a view.
Like most romantic movies, there is simply a level of sappiness that becomes a bit much, especially with the absence of laughs. LTD is billed as a light comedy after being a romance and drama, but the attempts at humor are rarely successful. Director Isabel Coiset and writer Sarah Kemochan waste no time in setting up the story; in less than five minutes husband and wife have broken up in the back of a cab. Sure, it is revealed later that they’ve had their spats before, but how and where it occurs comes off as forced. Really, it feels more rushed than it needs to be, which can be said for the ending as well.
The middle portion doesn’t make for a spectacular movie, but it does make for a semi-charming and warm and fuzzy one. Aside from the oddly placed daydreaming sequences and a sex scene that doesn’t contribute to anything that occurs after it, it is really consistent in getting from point A to B. The best word to probably use is unassuming, or workmanlike. Perhaps the best praise that can be given is that though it is clear as to how it will end, writer and director refuse to end it like other similar movies. Instead of the romance being the sole focus, the companionship is. It is a wise decision, one that saves Learning to Drive from being embarrassingly sappy and improbable.
Not a big film, the brunt of the weight is carried by Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley, and the two share a chemistry that likely was cultivated from their last movie together in Elegy, also directed by Coiset. Clarkson is resilient when called for it, and vulnerable when asked to be. Good work is turned in by Kingsley, in a role that very easily could have been offensive or cartoony. Thankfully, it is written pretty well, and much is learned and discovered about Kingsley’s character, He’s as big of a focus as Clarkson is, and seeing his character’s approach to life in comparison to Clarkson’s character gives LTD some depth.
Learning to Drive is just like, well, the process of learning how to drive. It can be predictable, and (hopefully), it ends in the way one expects with getting their license. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some surprises along the way. It’s a simple film, reliable and small, about the importance of being the driver of the vehicle called life.
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