Learning to Drive was released in August, yet I had never seen a trailer, heard of it, or read a review until yesterday morning when I saw it on the list of films showing at our favorite theater. Then when we looked it up we were surprised to find it was a New York Times Critics' Choice. More often than not, I fail to agree with the Times. I find their holier than thou way of looking at the world condescending to us mortals. However, maybe Pope Francis being in the country made them kinder and gentler for a week. Whatever.
The story intrigued me. I have always been a fan of Ben Kingsley. Patricia Clarkson is also a major talent, as is Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter who we recently saw in Rikki and the Flash). The basic story is the break down of Wendy's (Clarkson) marriage, Darwin's (Kingsley) sudden marriage, and the two thrown together during this particular time in their lives. Wendy suddenly finds that she needs to learn how to drive a car - something she never needed to do while she was married - if she wants to visit her daughter Tasha (Gummer) who is working in Vermont.
Their lives are very different. While Wendy is a well known book critic who lives in a nice brownstone. Darwin is a Sihk Indian who as a persecuted university professor, has been given political asylum in the states. He now works as a taxi driver and driving instructor and lives with several undocumented Indians in a one room apartment. Wendy is as emotionally unhinged as Darwin is calm. Their lives come together during Wendy's driving lessons. It is an intersection of cultures, genders, dispositions, and outlook. Naturally each learn from each other.
The movie is not predictable. As it moves along you see life from several different perspectives, including that of Darwin's wife (of his arranged marriage). Everyone is out of their comfort zone. Wendy out of her marriage, Darwin in a relationship, and Jasleen (Darwin's wife) in an unknown culture. The story is warm, funny, yet tense and a bit painful. It is well acted, well written, and well done.
For once I agree with the New York Times, even if I despise admitting it. This is 90 minutes well worth your time.