Learning to Drive
Directed by Isabel Coixet
Starring Grace Gummer, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Sarita Choudhury and Jake Weber
As her marriage dissolves, a Manhattan writer takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor with marriage troubles of his own. In each other's company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel.
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★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2014 Film #11
Reason for pick: Director Isabel Coixet, My Life Without Me, The Secret Lives of Words
TIFF 2014 People’s Choice Award 1st runner up.
Director Isabel Coixet is known for her unflinching dramas. From the two I’ve seen she’s not afraid to focus on difficult subjects without the crutch of melodrama and violins. It was a bit surprising, then, to see the comedic turn she’s taken with Learning to Drive. I’ve subsequently read that stars Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley so enjoyed working with each other, and working with Coixet on Elegy, back in 2008, that they brought the script for Learning to Drive to her.
Earlier in the festival I saw a film, Bird People, that I thought was thematically about the moment of change. I think this one tackles the precursor and aftermath of change. In this case Clarkson’s Wendy is being forced out of a marriage, while Kingsley’s Darwan is being forced into one. The aftermath of her situation and the precursor to his is the point at which they intersect.
Sounds a bit formulaic? Well, that’s kind of the issue; It is. There isn’t much of Coixet’s voice here .. in fact at the Q and A she was kind of stuttering and fumbling to answer a question about the comedy in the film. Clarkson quickly came to the rescue, and in doing so, you can really tell that this was Clarkson and Kingsley’s film. Despite being a paint-by-numbers rom-com-ish story, it was the chemistry and brilliant-as-usual performances from the two leads that rescues any comedy-rooky mis-steps by Coixet or trite tropes by screenwriter Sarah Kernochan. This is simply a fun, and sometimes touching, film.
The festival has just ended today, and after my last film I heard that this won first runner up for the People’s Choice award. In some ways I’m surprised, but in others I’m not. I think the movie going public will just gobble this one up.
★★★½ review by lena on Letterboxd
Patricia Clarkson adopt me challenge
★★★½ review by nicole on Letterboxd
cheating on patricia clarkson?? sounds fake but ok...
★★★½ review by KISSman on Letterboxd
Learning To Drive flirts with being both a meaningful film and cheesy relationship movie, but substance mostly wins out over schmaltz. Honestly, the main reason the film succeeds is due to Ben Kingsley's portrayal of a Sikh driving instructor and the stellar performance that he delivers. While Learning To Drive may hit a few potholes during its journey, you still can't help but enjoy the ride.
★★★★ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd
Based on a decade-old New Yorker magazine essay, this is an utterly charming film about a fifty-something divorcee who tries to reclaim her life after the split-up with her husband. Wendy (a wonderfully nuanced performance by Patricia Clarkson) is one of those native New Yorkers who has never learned how to drive. Darwan (a touching, realistic portrayal by Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh immigrant, a former professor in his native India granted political asylum, who has been scratching out a living as a driving teacher and taxi driver. Darwin has problems of his own with his recently arranged marriage to a woman who is having trouble adjusting to her new life in America. Wendy and Darwan come together, each involved with their own personal crisis, in a series of driving lessons through the teeming streets of New York City.
Before watching this film, I was afraid that this would just be a rehash of the themes of Driving Miss Daisy. However much credit for the uniquely truthful feeling of this film should go to the two wonderful actors who played so well off each other; and also to the brilliant camera operation by director Isabel Croixet who chose to shoot the many automobile sequences in the restricted confines of actual cars driving on location throughout the city. Croixet made one of my favorite films back in 2003, My Life Without Me; and this uncompromisingly adult film adds to my feeling that she is one of the best contemporary film directors making films today.
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