Learning to Drive Movie Review
Review by Karen Samdahl (B+)
Learning to Drive is a many-faceted film with a small but powerful and talented cast. The main character Wendy, played by Patricia Clarkson (Emmy Award-winner for her role in “Six Feet Under”) has just been dumped by her charming “prick of a husband” (her words, not mine) played by Jake Weber (a regular on HBO’s "Mind of the Married Man," and the husband on the long-running show "Medium").
The breakup takes place in a taxi driven by Darwan, a Sikh political refugee, played by the always flawless actor Ben Kingsley. He also is a driving instructor and when the now-abandoned Wendy realizes she no longer has a husband to drive her around, she calls on Darwan’s help to teach her to drive in the hectic streets of New York City. Though a quintessential New York-vibe movie, it is not directed by Woody Allen but rather by Spanish director Isabel Coixet.
The theme of the movie centers on endings and new beginnings, facing fears and moving forward. The primary vessels of this message are the characters portrayed by Wendy and Darwan. Wendy is an overwrought, fearful intellectual who is in sharp contrast to the dignified, intense and philosophical Darwan. Patricia Clarkson is brilliant and vibrant as Wendy but where she plays her role like a firecracker, Ben Kingsley plays his with the quietest of nuance. It is the contrast of the two characters and the subtle interplay between them that produces the impact of the film. Darwan’s newly arrived from India arranged-marriage bride Jasleen, played by Sarita Choudhury (Saul Berenson’s wife Mira on Showtime’s "Homeland") also plays her role—Darwan’s arranged bride, freshly shipped in from India—with gentle nuance.
My friend who accompanied me to the movie said it best: “This movie has a lot of layers.” Besides the main themes I mention, we experience bigotry, racial profiling and the unhappy challenges faced by illegal immigrants. Despite the existence of many serious and thought-provoking themes, the film is upbeat and hopeful. If you only like adrenaline blockbusters and not films centered upon human relationships, this film is not for you. It should appeal greatly to people who have had to face or are currently facing major life changes: divorce, widowhood, job and significant relocations. I think thoughtful men would appreciate the film, but the strongest appeal I expect would be for 40-year-old+ women, women who have faced some life challenges and can most clearly hear the messages offered by the film. Learning to Drive is a film worth seeing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.