Learning to Drive [2015]

A marriage breaks up after 20 years, and the wife is thus forced to learn to drive. Her instructor is a refugee from political oppression who’s a driving instructor by day and a cabbie by night. Together, they heal, they grow, they learn to drive – it sounds like one of those schmaltzy Hallmark movies, and it skirts that territory more than once. What saves it from being a super-sweet movie about healing is its insistently sad undertone. It never allows itself the full orchestra swell and soft-focus close-up, and it never really commits to the fully saccharine ending. In structural terms it hovers between romance and coming-of-age, as Wendy [Patricia Clarkson] becomes a driver in parallel to Darwan’s [Ben Kingsley] attempt to start a new marriage.

The basic problem I have with the film is that in a better version of this film, actually learning to drive would be the metaphor that ties up the different scenes, rather than the basic structure. As the basic structure, it spoon-feeds its core messages to the audience. It becomes nominal, straightforward and obvious. She begins to find her feet in her post-marriage life exactly in tandem with her driving lessons. Darwan’s aphorisms seem all peculiarly applicable to her life, at just the right moment.

I think someone more culturally sensitive and informed may have more to say about the treatment of immigration, of Darwan as refugee. But it’s hard to think that it’d really do anything in that sphere not done better by Bread and Roses.

I gave this 5/10 on the IMDB, because it just felt like it wasn’t really trying that hard, and really only gave it that much because I loved Patricia Clarkson’s performance.

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