Learning to Drive (2015)
Cast includes: Ben Kingsley (Hugo), Patricia Clarkson (Good Night, and Good Luck.), Grace Gummer (Margin Call), Jake Weber (Meet Joe Black), Sarita Choudhury (Homeland), Avi Nash (In Search of America, Inshallah)
Director: Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me, Elegy)
Genre: Light Drama | Comedy | Romance (90 minutes)
“Driving isn’t a joke,” Darwan says to his young student, hoping he’ll take the responsibility more seriously. After his shift at the Ena’s driving school, Darwan drives a taxi… today his most memorable passengers are Ted and Wendy. “You can’t run out on me, you bastard!” “Hudson and Jane Street,” says Ted. “Is that where she lives?” “Take her to 112 West 98th Street.” After all the yelling, Wendy simply cries all the way home… Wendy and Ted’s home for the last 30 years. Darwan is polite and calm, as always, but it must be a relief to be out of the middle of a nasty marriage break-up… except he’s not out of it yet, because Wendy has left a package in the back seat. When Wendy’s daughter, Tasha, comes home from Vermont, we learn that she’d like her mom to come up for a visit, but… Wendy doesn’t drive, making a visit nearly impossible. Ted drives, but Ted’s left.
“You left this in my taxi,” says Darwan, delivering the package to West 98th Street. When he won’t take the money she offers as a thank you… saying he only wants to help, Wendy says, “You must not be from here.” “No, I’m from Queens,” he says. But obviously, the Sikh man didn’t grow up in Queens, and his demeanor is calming and comforting. That’s when she notices the student driver sign on the car, and gets the idea of taking driving lesson. As Wendy’s situation goes from bad to worse, she continues to think Ted might come back. So when Darwan arrives for the first lesson, she’s already changed her mind. “Why? [No answer] Just come sit in the car,” he says. He steadily talks her through some basics, like the seat belt, the ignition, putting the car into drive and… yikes, it moved… “As it should,” Darwan says. When Wendy doesn’t know what to do next, Darwan tells her, “You have to go forward because I haven’t taught you to back up.”
Wendy isn’t the only one who needs to go forward in life. Darwan’s life has been in neutral for more than a decade, since he came here from India on political asylum. While there’s a romantic element in the film, Learning to Drive isn’t a romance for young adults. It speaks instead to issues relatively common among grown-ups… learning to embrace a new direction when life has thrown us an unexpected detour. It’s an enjoyable film, with many valuable life lessons packaged as driving instructions. For the most part, the filmmakers have resisted the urge of blatantly moralizing… and that’s definitely a plus. Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson do an excellent job as the two lead characters. As in life, Learning to Drive has a few unexpected turns. “I’m finding I can do hard things,” says Wendy. And that’s a good thing because life has plenty of hard things to do.
3 popped kernels
A Sikh driving instructor helps Wendy navigate the path after her failed marriage
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: Grown-up romance
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking