Fasten Your Seat Belt First
Learning To Drive
Stars: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Grace Gummer, Sarita Choudhury, Matt Salinger, Samantha Bee and Avi Nash
Director: Isabel Coixet
Scriptwriter: Sarah Kernochan from a “New Yorker” article by Katha Politt
Composers: Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks
Lavender Pictures/Broad Green Pictures
Rating: R for language and themed material
Running Length: 90 minutes
Patricia Clarkson (Wendy) and Ben Kingsley (Darwan) anchor this film of two people from different cultures meeting for a mutual purpose, and gradually getting to know each other. Adapted from a magazine article, the script by Sarah Kernochan gives us a woman book reviewer who has given her life to books, but ignored her family. While, on the other side, there is a man who sought political asylum in America and now works hard at blending in and holding two jobs, but ignores the rest of his life. Other characters, such as Darwan’s friend, Preet (newcomer Avi Nash) and Wendy’s husband, Ted (Jake Weber from “The Closer”) and Wendy’s daughter, Tasha (Grace Gummer one of the stars of “Extant”) are there to show frustration at not being able to “reach” the loved ones (wife and mother or close friend.) This is set in New York City, especially Queens, with the street flavor of a big city.
We begin with Wendy and Ted, a married couple of over 27 years. He asks for a separation, the reason being another woman. Wendy thinks this is a phase (“…the seven-year-itch and this is his three-and-a-half one…”), even when he moves out, sends papers and asks for a porce. The crux here is that Wendy doesn't drive a car. New York City is full of buses, taxis, subways, sidewalks, so why a car? She soon finds out it means independence, so after accidentally leaving a package in Darwan’s cab (she and Ted broke up there), and Darwan bringing it back with his business card of “Driving Instructor,” Wendy commits to lessons. Darwan’s method of teaching is peaceful, fasten your seat belt first and create a comfort zone for yourself before looking for the blind spots and moving the car. This is something to remember every day in life, whether driving or leaving the house.
I learned how to drive in a parking lot with my father. Darwan teaches driving by immediately having the student pull into traffic---he has another set of brakes, though. You can imagine what happens and Clarkson’s facial expressions throughout the film are a story by themselves. Along the way and through many lessons, the two get to know each other. Her porce and relations with her daughter, her job and finding a new apartment. His being a bachelor and finally marrying in an arranged marriage by his mother in India, with the bride being almost 40 (“…she cared for her father who was ill…”). You know there will be three high points in this film, passing a driving test and getting a car, meeting the bride at the airport for the first time, and the finalization of a porce between two people. Intermingled are side-stories of being on the radio as a book reviewer and having friends in this country illegally and hiding from the police. Two different sections of life, one of the literary and the other in the shadows (Darwan’s friend, Preet), one step ahead of the law.
Patricia Clarkson’s “Wendy,” is a woman who is going out on her own for the first time and is afraid of life. Her comfort zone had been books and a computer. Darwan’s comfort zone had been work, prayer and that’s it. Both find how lonely this can be. Jake Weber as Ted, has made his choice and is eager to leave Wendy behind, much to her surprise, he doesn't cling to memories. Darwan is lonely in this new world and when all is said and done, you need someone from your native country to talk to over a dinner meal. Grace Gummer as the energetic “Tasha,” looks so much like her mother, Meryl Streep, it can be distracting. She does well.
I didn't know what to expect from “Learning to Drive,” but found it a delight, insightful, a few rough spots like bumps in the road (where does Wendy park her new car?), and a study of people who end up in New York City, and love it there. “Learning To Drive” is really learning life.
Copyright 2015 Marie Asner
Sep 17 (2 days ago)