Learning to Drive: Film Review
Csat: Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Jake Webber, Grace Gummer
Director: Isabel Coixet
Saccharin and over-loaded with enough platitudes, Learning To Drive is more likely to hold truck with older viewers willing to forego its narrative lulls than curry favour with a younger audience.
Set in New York, an earnest and quietly gentle Ben Kingsley plays Sikh Darwan, a driving school instructor by day and taxi driver by night. Clarkson plays Wendy, a woman whose husband has had his third seven-year-itch in their marriage and who's walking out.
Realising she needs some self-empowerment, the self-absorbed Wendy believes the first step is to take driving lessons - which she duly does with Darwan. As the lessons continue, the sharp Wendy and the gentle Darwan begin to have an effect on each other, as they near a cross roads (or should that be intersection) of their lives.
As gentle as a breeze through the streets of the New York it inhabits, Learning To Drive predictably drops as many life lessons as it does pearls of wisdom throughout. Darwan has to negotiate an arranged marriage at the same time as Wendy deals with the breakdown of hers; it's all ever so pleasant and meandering.
Adapted from a New Yorker essay, and with immigration issues raised early on and shoved conveniently to the side, Learning To Drive benefits from the rapport of the main duo rather than the strength of its safe writing that goes narratively everywhere you'd expect it to - even if that means leaving it stalled in park.
While the film seems fairly content to accept and embrace what it is about these two New Yorkers and their friendship which make them work, a final sequence pretty much betrays what you've come to believe of Kingsley's Darwan, a major misstep that throws your investment into Darwan down the drain. Maybe if the film had sown these seeds a little stronger earlier on it may have been a more effective rug-pull rather than an outright slap to the face.
Learning To Drive will sit with the older audience who recognise the fallacies of mid-life but it drives its under-cooked characters a little too comfortably down the middle of the road throughout.