2006 - United Kingdom - 98 minutes
Writer and Director - Jeremy Brock
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
If you enjoyed Harold and Maude, you should enjoy Driving Lessons for it is a clone of the 70's film that has become somewhat of a cult classic. Unfortunately, Driving Lessons is not nearly as good as its predecessor but it's not from lack of good acting along with outstanding music that thoroughly adds to the enjoyment of the film.
Ben is an extremely introverted teenager, and it's no wonder that he is. He is the son of a cuckolded minister and a mother from hell. Ben's mother is a person who uses religion as a club to pound her son's ego into little pieces while his cowardly father looks on silently or escapes to his office to hide.
After being told by his harridan of a mother to get a job, Ben answers an ad to be an assistant for an elderly woman. It turns out that the woman, Evie, is a colorful kook who is a retired actress. She takes Ben under her somewhat bawdy wing, and their adventure begins.
Unlike his mother who only sees elements in Ben to criticize and berate, Evie sees an intelligent, introspective, young man with the heart of a poet. Through a series of both comic and poignant events, Ben grows to appreciate his own worth.
It is the superior acting that gives this coming of age story a step up from most of the genre. Ben is played by Rupert Grint who has been seen in the Harry Potter films. He is the perfect age and has the perfect look for the part of Ben. Ben's transformation from a downtrodden youth to a strong young man is totally believable due to Grint's beautiful acting.
Julie Walters plays Evie with a real kick. She shows us a woman who has become almost a prisoner of her former life who, through her relationship with Ben, begins to look more forward than backward. Walters exudes both spirit and pathos in showing us a woman facing her own latter-life crisis.
Laura Linney gives a great performance as the mother. This is a woman whom you wish would be plowed down by a dump truck on a busy street or struck by lightning. It is to Linney's merit that she does not try to make the character in the least way sympathetic. She is not afraid to have her character be hated by the audience. That is one of the signs of a very good actress.
If you have seen Harold and Maude, you know that a sexual relationship develops between the young man and the older (much, much older) woman. There is no such relationship in Driving Lessons. I have read the opinions of some critics who feel that this is a cop-out to our politically correct age. Perhaps, but I don't think that it hurts the overall story for their relationship to have been platonic. Walters gives us a woman who certainly might have been physically attracted to this young man, but instead, is overwhelmed by his giving, poetic spirit. This is easy to believe and understand.
Driving Lessons is not a great film, but it certainly is an enjoyable hour and a half that I recommend for your viewing pleasure.
A note: I have mentioned Harold and Maude several times in this review. If you haven't had the extreme pleasure of seeing this intriguing film, rent it and watch it as soon as possible!
July 9, 2007