Learning to Drive (2014)

Learning to Drive (2014)
  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Isabel Coixet
  • Cast: Grace Gummer, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson


Wendy (Patrician Clarkson), a self-absorbed New York book critic, is shocked to reality by the sudden end of her marriage. Always dependent on her husband for driving, she must now learn to take the wheel on her own. Her instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh Indian who watches with alarm as his pupil falls apart at the seams. He himself is contemplating an arranged marriage with a woman he has never met. As these two lives intersect, both will change in unpredictable ways.


  • “I never learned to cook because I thought my mother would always be there to cook for me.
    And then there was half the world between us.
    So I make my own food.
    Your point ?
    No point.”

    Driving lessons as a metaphor for life. An original way to highlight this. But just like the lessons in everyday life, this film is a bit slow and repetitive. Granted, you can actually compare this with life. In the beginning a lot goes wrong and you don’t really know how to start and comprehend it all. But with a lot of practice and experience, you can cope with it. And sometimes it can go terribly wrong with misery as a result. So with perseverance, following good advice given and not violating too many rules, you could succeed. And you can come up with more things connected to ordinary life. But as I said, it isn’t really exciting. Besides that, I also asked myself where the romance was in this movie. The fact that Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) is going through a divorce and Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is forced into a marriage with someone he doesn’t even know properly, is not exactly my idea of romance. And it wasn’t a real comedy either despite a few funny moments. I’d rather call it a tragic affair. And yet it was a movie I could watch effortlessly till the end. And that because of the sublime acting.

    So in terms of content, it’s not really special. More than once the subject of two strangers, with totally different characters, spontaneously meeting each other and supporting each other so they can handle a difficult period, has already been used before. So here we have Wendy, a book critic and Darwan, a driving instructor. Wendy is an emotionally hurt, dignified lady. Because of her profession she has demarcated a territory around herself where both her husband and daughter aren’t allowed in. As a result Ted (Jake Webber) packs his bags and moves in with his mistress (a female writer whose books are also praised by Wendy). Darwan is a Sikh and next to being a driving instructor, he’s also a taxi driver at night. A person of traditions who sees it as his life’s work, to ensure that Wendy gets her license. Patiently and full of wise advices, he even gets her to drive over a bridge. He’s more of a psychiatrist with an instruction car as a relaxant seat.

    Clarkson and Kingsley form a colorful duo. A mix of cultures. Clarkson, who also had the leading role in “October Gale”, is a charming lady I’d love to see shining next to Helen Mirren in another movie. Her charisma is overwhelming and her emotions felt sincere. In contrast there’s the calmness and patience of Kingsley. A distinguished and dignified character. The acting of the two main characters made sure this mainstream film was still enjoyable.

    Ultimately “Learning to drive” is a tender and touching film full of symbolism. However, it lacks a bit of energy and progresses with a calm pace. A bit like how Wendy navigates through traffic. But it shouldn’t be always just about suspense and frenzy action scenes. Thanks to the brilliant performances of the two main actors, this movie was fun to watch. For me this movie passed the test.

    More reviews here : http://bit.ly/1KIdQMT

  • The deceptively simple act of driving is rich with symbolism that can easily be seen as reflective of various aspects of life. Think about it: stepping on the gas, hitting cruise control, slamming on the brakes, looking in the rear view mirror, allowing yourself to get distracted, having to keep an eye on those around you, missing your exit, finding yourself in unfamiliar territory, etc., etc., etc. Driving as metaphor is a device that the comedy-drama “Learning to Drive” (R, 1:30) uses to maximum advantage.

    Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) is a self-absorbed New York book editor who is slow to realize that her 20+ year marriage is coming to an end. She is shocked when her husband, Ted (Jack Weber), tells her that he’s leaving her. Even though Wendy understands that Ted has been cheating on her, she still believes that this is a phase and he’ll come back. She’s naturally distraught about the situation, but it seems to be less about losing the love of her life and more about losing the life she loved. She was very comfortable in her marriage and her routine. Maybe too comfortable. Maybe that’s what doomed the marriage. Both Wendy and Ted stopped trying. The difference is that Ted realized it and Wendy didn’t. Rather than talking about it, Ted acted out and Wendy was blind-sided. And two lives were upended.

    The other difference between Wendy and Ted is that Ted had something to move on to, while Wendy is having trouble moving on at all. Not only had Wendy depended on Ted for comfort and security, but also for driving. As residents of the Big Apple, with all its subways and taxis, they didn’t drive much, but when they did, it was Ted behind the wheel. Wendy doesn’t even have a license or know how to drive… how to get anywhere on her own. (Starting to see those metaphors I was talking about?) Wendy needs to learn to drive – to “get from A to B”, but also to establish her independence, and to move forward – figuratively and literally. She wants to be able to visit her college-aged daughter, Tasha (Grace Gummer), who lives on a farm – for from New York’s public transportation system. Enter Darwan Singh Tur.

    Actually, Darwan (Ben Kingsley) entered the story in the movie’s very first scene. He happened to be the cab driver who picked up Wendy and Ted outside the restaurant where he told her that he was leaving her. After Darwan dropped Ted off at his mistress’ house and then took Wendy home, he found an envelope that she had left in his cab. The next day he brought her the envelope, but this time he was driving his other “company car”, that of a driving instructor. Wendy notices and asks for his card. She calls to schedule her first lesson, but Darwan has to cajole her to even get into the car. Her reluctance turns to fear as soon as she gets behind the wheel. Fortunately for Wendy, Darwan is a good teacher, and a good and patient man. He gets her to pull away from the curb… and the metaphors continue.

    As Darwan teaches Wendy about the finer points of life, er, I mean… driving, the two form an unlikely friendship. As much as Wendy needs Darwan’s patience and companionship, he needs her wisdom. He has agreed to a marriage arranged for him by his sister back in India. When his bride, Mata (Daniela Lavender) arrives in the U.S., he doesn’t know how to relate to her. Both Darwan and Mata are middle-aged and never married, but they are different in every other way, and, one day after meeting, they’re husband and wife. Darwan soon finds himself as desperate and clueless as Wendy was when she first entered his cab, and his life. As with any driving lesson, they each experience stops and starts in learning to handle their new lives, but each benefits from the wisdom and inherent goodness of the other.

    “Learning to Drive” is a slight, but pleasant enough lesson in resilience, perseverance and friendship. The driving metaphors are very effective, if a bit too obvious at times. Clarkson’s performance is very good, except for when she oversells the fear that an accomplished woman of her years experiences while engaged in the simplest tasks inside a car. Wendy and Darwan are both likable and amusing characters, even if the film sometimes moves as slowly as Wendy during her first lesson. “C+”

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