Learning to Drive
by Hector Mackenzie
Work-absorbed book critic Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) finds her life in turmoil when her lecturer husband leaves her for a younger woman.
It’s not the first time that the “seven-year itch” has struck in their long relationship and Wendy – whose life revolves around words and books – seems to accept what has happened and feels sure that he’ll be back. He hasn’t, she notes, even returned for his books…
The couple have had a flaming row in the back of a New York cab driven by Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a gentle Sikh who has fought to win asylum in the United States. An upright man who sticks by a strict moral code of conduct to help others first, Darwan thinks nothing of turning up at Wendy’s door a few days later with a package she has mistakenly left in his cab.
When it transpires through her daughter that the husband is not coming back, Wendy decides it’s time to shake up her life – starting with a determination to do something alien to many native New Yorkers: learning how to drive. This she needs to do to be able to visit her daughter, who is studying agriculture out in the sticks.
It just so happens that hard-working Darwan doubles up as a driving instructor during the day.
The poles-apart pair form an unlikely friendship as somewhat uptight Darwan begins to seek Wendy’s advice on how to behave with women. This becomes pertinent as a marriage is being ‘arranged’ for him by a relative with a soon-to-arrive bride from his native India…
Isabel Coixet’s film makes some pertinent points along the way about the racial profiling routinely faced by so many American citizens in their everyday dealing with the police in particular and other people in general, melting pot or not. At one point, Darwan sits patiently while being abused by two teenagers making an Osama Bin Laden crack at his expense (based on the fact that he wears a turban).
The juxtaposition of Darwan’s calm restraint with Wendy’s unravelling panic create some lovely, tender moments in a feel-good film in which we see the reawakening of joy, humour and love.
What happens? An odd couple learn from one another as they gradually come to terms with the curveballs life throws at them.
Best quote? “At 21 years, we're on our third itch... or it's male menopause.”
Who for? Anyone who has been around the block once or twice and delights in gentle, warm comedy dramas
Quick review? A coming of (middle) age drama in which an oddball couple bond at driving school and discover there’s more to life than books and rule following.