Director: Isabel Coixet
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury
Patrica Clarkson picked up the project Learning to Drive 11 years ago, yes that’s right 11 years! She was so touched by the original story written by Katha Pollitt, she was determined to turn it into a film and although there are some flat moments, overall, Learning to Drive is a sweet film that drops some life lessons along the way.
The story starts off with renown book critic Wendy, played by Patricia Clarkson, finding out that her husband (Jake Weber) of 21 years has been cheating on her and is leaving her for a younger woman. As she deals with the divorce her daughter, Tasha, asks her to take some time off so she can visit Tasha (Grace Gummer) in Vermont. Wendy doesn’t know how to drive so she hires Darwan Singh Toor, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, as her driving instructor.
Thus this not-really-a-love-story-but-still-sort-of-a-love-story begins. As Darwan teaches her to drive he also teaches her about life. He teaches Wendy to be strong and independent while she teaches him about love and marriage. Along the way we discover that Darwan is a political refugee from India, his nephew (Avi Nash) is an illegal immigrant that lives with him and his sister has arranged his marriage. Once Darwan’s fiance, Jasleen played by Sarita Choudhury, arrives there is a change in Darwan. He’s unsure of how to act and there are unforeseen obstacles for both Darwan and Jasleen. Their relationship is strained and this is when he looks to Wendy for help. The rest you’ll have to watch to find out but the relationship between Wendy and Darwan is one of friendship, trust and love.
Director Isabel Coixet and screen writer Sarah Kernochan did a brilliant job creating relate-able characters and bringing out the best in their actors. Of course, having a legend like Thelma Schoonmaker in the editing room was a great help. The actors have all have done justice to their respective roles. Patricia Clarkson is one of those actors who can say so much without saying a word and, of course, perish any doubts you have about Sir Ben Kingsley playing a Sikh man, he was perfect! He was so immersed in the role, he even picked up they way they walk, stand, speak, etc. Every detail was so carefully crafted!
Although Jake Weber played the cheating husband you don’t quite hate him, he played the role well. You realize that he’s not the only one to blame for the marriage falling apart, bad things happen and there’s no use blaming others when you are at fault too. Sarita Choudhury was interesting to watch because she is such a fiery woman and to see her play a soft, scared Jasleen was a treat. Her emotions were always in her eyes, whether she was scared, nervous, happy, it was clear without being exaggerated.
The film was very realistic, nothing excessively dramatic and definitely had some laugh-out-loud moments thanks to screen writer Sarah Kernochan’s humor (wish we had seen more that!). Although I wish there was something more, perhaps one more punch in the plot to spice it up or dig deeper into the characters because it does become mundane at times. The film was far from bad but it definitely needed more of an edge. Visually the film was seamless, very natural nothing excessively theatrical to take away from the message of the film. Although there was a cultural clash with these lead characters, the film wasn’t just about that, it was more about the two characters building a relationship and helping each other in ways they never thought of. This is definitely a film that will be more appreciated by an older crowd but we’re sure younger fans will enjoy it as well!