Learning to Drive is easy to like. It demands little emotional involvement and it gives winning performances from two highly talented actors. The premise is simple. Patricia Clarkson’s Wendy is a New York writer who finds herself in the middle of a divorce. Her only daughter, Tasha, (played by Grace Gummer, one of Meryl Streep’s two actor daughters) lives in Vermont and is in need of some motherly attention, but Wendy has never learned to drive. After a cab ride with Darwan (Ben Kingsley), she impulsively decides to take driving lessons, and thus the story begins.
One of the most interesting elements of this movie was the exposure to the Sikh culture, of which Darwan is a part. Kingley’s father was of Indian descent – in fact Ben was born “Krishna Bhanji” – and he slips naturally into his Sikh role. Both Kingsley and Clarkson have storied careers with huge filmographies, and IMDB.com is the perfect resource for checking out their bodies of work. Three of my very favorite Patricia Clarkson movies were all released in 2003: All the Real Girls, The Station Agent, and Pieces of April (I own that one). In thinking about Ben Kingsley films, I’m always reminded of one of his most intense performances, along with co-star Sigourney Weaver, in Death and the Maiden (directed by Roman Polanski).
Learning to Drive is an easy vehicle (sorry for the bad pun) for both these actors to inhabit, and though it is by no means the most appropriate for showing off their breadth of their talents, it serves as the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. The movie dips into a few deeper themes such as loneliness and overcoming fears, but the treatment is neither heavy handed nor saccharine. If you’re in the mood for some accomplished acting and don’t mind being in a car for a good chunk of time, check this movie out. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 1/19/16