Learning To Drive Review

The Plot

As her marriage dissolves, Manhattan writer Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) takes driving lessons from Sikh instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) who has marriage troubles of his own. In each other’s company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel.

The Good

Director Isabel Coixet brings a small but endearingly sweet story to the screen with Sarah Kernochan’s script that creates one of the most beautifully natural pairings of Clarkson and Kingsley. With two such high caliber performances bringing gravitas to the chemistry, Kernochan’s script jumps to life wonderfully.

The story of two souls who find each other in the midst of Manhattan is a simple one but told with a depth that doesn’t fall to the power of its acting. Ben Kingsley gives a heartwarming performance as peaceful driving instructor Darwan who, even through the trials and tribulations of an arranged marriage and harboring illegal immigrant family members, still comes through the screen with a palliative sense about him.

While Darwan deals with the beginnings of his married life, Patricia Clarkson’s Wendy is dealing with the end of hers, coming to terms with being single and alone in a big city and unable to even drive away from it all. As she tries to smooth out her life and start afresh, starting with learning to drive, Wendy becomes instantly likable making the story even more accessible for audiences.

As well as this, we also get Sarita Chaudhury, last seen wooing Tom Hanks in A Hologram For The King, who has now moved on to Ben Kingsley as arranged bride, Jasleen, who tries to settle into the strange and foreign life of Manhattan. Meanwhile, on Clarkson’s side we get Grace Gummer as daughter Tasha. While the two roles aren’t much in terms of plot (though Chaudhury arguably gets more to do than Gummer) they serve as nice additions to an already strong film.

The Bad

There really isn’t much to disappoint in Kernochan’s script. The only slight misgiving that can be pointed out is it’s small hints at more to the friendship between Darwan and Wendy than meets the eye. It’s a fleeting moment, and were it dwelt on any longer it would be a distracting one.

The Ugly Truth

What Kernochan’s script absolutely nails is balance. At no time does Darwan’s difficulties become more important than Wendy’s, or vice versa. In the short 90 minutes Learning to Drive is an utter joy to watch and will certainly not feel like wasted time in the presence of such great actors.

Review by Johnny Ellis

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