“Learning to Drive” is a charming and sweet film that took place in New York City with Ben Kingsley portraying the Indian Sikh driving instructor, Darwan, Patricia Clarkson, as Wendy, the jilted wife who doesn’t drive and is afraid of change, and Grace Gummer as her daughter Tasha. The film was written by Sarah Kernochan and directed by Isabel Coixet. Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson approached Coixet with the script after they did Elegy in 2008. They wanted to work together again. This was the perfect vehicle for their talents.
Ben Kingsley perfected the Indian dialect, and Clarkson was so very good with a delicately nuanced performance . She is a book critic who loved words and that love of books and words superseded her love for her husband, Ted, who has had affairs and left her for a writer they both know. Wendy decides to learn to drive and a friendship develops between Darwan (Kingsley) and Wendy (Clarkson). She is getting divorced and he is getting an arranged marriage. So, they are from different cultures and stages of their lives.
It turns out that these two people have much in common and there are witty and charming aspects as Wendy is set free by driving and expanding her horizons. Darwan offers her sage words and ways to not have “road rage” in her daily life. She is becoming “single” again and learning to love herself, and Darwan is getting married to a stranger and is learning to love her.
Driving becomes the metaphor for life. Wendy’s daughter, Tasha, well-acted by Meryl Streep’s daughter, Grace is in the film at the beginning and at the end. She proves to be a formidable actress.
There is no violence, no shootings, no people blown up, just a film about a sweet and charming friendship which develops between two seemingly disparate characters. Darwan gets his arranged bride, and his parallel story is not all roses. Jasleen , Sarita Choudhury, is not educated and fears going out, watches cartoons on television and and doesn’t related to Darwan. And, Darwan does little to accommodate her and is gone most of the time trying to earn a living for the two of them. Suddenly, Jasleen changes and becomes social and befriends other women.
She goes to school. But, she and Darwan are strangers. It seems he has more in common with Wendy. Darwan and Wendy share stories. Will she pass her driving test? Will Darwan’s arranged marriage work out?
The film had a delicate balance between the two leads. It was about friendship, courage, love and learning to drive and to face fears. Wendy grows as she does this. She emboldens herself through Darwan and even faces driving across the bridge to Queens. She conquers her fear of heights. At some point. as Wendy gains confidence, she offers sage advice to Darwan.
What can I say? It was a lovely and gentle film on relationships. I highly recommend this film. Check your theaters to see where this charming film is playing.