Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Learning to Drive (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Learning to Drive

Isabel Coixet's "Learning to Drive" based on a New Yorker article of the same name by Katha Politt, is warm and engaging by turns.

Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) is a literary agent bowled over by an abrupt breakup. Feeling guilty that she is unable to drive and limited in her visits to her daughter, Tasha (Grace Gummer) Wendy decides to enroll in driving lessons.

Darwan (Ben Kingsley) arrives at her New York apartment as promised, but Wendy distracted and upset by separation and possible divorce, is far from the road. Darwan is insistent. He convinces her to merely sit in the car to get a sense of the wheel. Wendy is a tough student; she is absentminded and frequently daydreams. One can't blame her.

What follows is a likable and direct character comedy of how these two people handle  situations and become friends.

Darwan is calm and deliberate though he lives in constant paranoia of being thought of as a terrorist among the ignorant. He happens to be a Sikh, and consequently has  a turban.

Though this is usually lukewarm material, Clarkson and Kingsley have a solid urgency speaking with such careful detail that their characters hold weight in spite of it all. Darwan, tranquil and measured, will abruptly break into hoots of laughter. He is as serious as he is accepting. Darwan is also obsessively careful and well worn by hardship.

Though it would be naive to say we have not seen this character before, (the wise and comforting outsider) Kingsley embodies this man so completely that he gives more flesh in his form.

Wendy too, is a type: The harried divorcee. Again, however, Clarkson's role is so quietly nuanced and honest that we are taken in.

Only the role of Jasleen ( Sarita Chaudhury) feels a bit underwhelming as Darwan's wife in an arranged marriage. While it is well established that she is sheltered and at sea with American culture, we don't get much of an idea of who Jasleen really is, beyond someone left out. One sees her go from nearly total isolation to smiling at a house party.

Such abruptness is hardly realistic.

Also, given our worldwide technological immersion, would Jasleen really mistake Spanish for English? I doubt it.

This reservation aside, Kingsley and Clarkson are the main pulse of the story as they revolve around each other as cross-cultural satellites, gently pushing and pulling, exchanging parcels of collected thought and happenstance.

While one wishes for haunt and mystery, there is enough shared wildness in Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson to make one wonder: What If?

Though "Learning to Drive" might have a  light appearance, its interior is pleasant,  natural and textured. As an unfussy portrait of the give and take involved in friendship, it coasts across the screen with a breezy acceleration, sure to please.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

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