Thursday, September 17, 2015

Learning to Drive (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Learning to Drive” Moves Life Forward
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of it as “Driving Miss Daisy” from a new cultural point of view. Oscar-nominee Patricia Clarkson plays Wendy, a middle-age book editor who gets dumped by her husband, so she wants to console herself by visiting her daughter who lives upstate. Problem is, Wendy doesn’t know how to drive.

Ergo: “Learning to Drive” is the meaningful title of this dramedy directed by Isabel Coixet. It’s parked at the Tropic this week.

To get these driving lessons Wendy turns to a Sikh cab driver named Dawan. This is where the film’s metaphor comes in: that we all need to “learn to drive” our life. That is, move forward. These funny, brittle, chatty driving lessons give Wendy -- and Dawan -- the impetus to do that.

Patricia Clarkson is perhaps the finest American actress short of Meryl Street. And playing her daughter in this film is Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer (Mamie’s sister).

Cast as the Indian cabbie is Sir Ben Kingsley, the British actor forever typecast by his Academy Award-winning role as “Gandhi.” However, Sir Ben has legitimate claims to playing an Indian. Although he was born in Yorkford, England, his real name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. His father was a medical doctor from Kenya, son of a spice trader from India.

“Learning to Drive” is a beautifully acted tale of friendship. Sensitive and nuanced, the relationship between the emotionally reckless driving student and the steadfast teacher dealing with an arranged marriage is worth the trip.

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