Saturday, January 12, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: Driving Lessons

Driving Lessons, 2005, UK Film Council, ContentFilm, Sony Classics, directed and written by Jeremy Brock, Sony Classics DVD, 1:85:1

Ben (Rupert Grint of Harry Potter film fame) is a not so normal caricature of a sensitive London teenage boy. He fancies Sarah who, when he reads her one of his poems to her, tells him he is just plain "weird". Ben's Dad (Nicholas Farrell) too is a caricature. He is an Anglican vicar who, when he is not on the outs with mum and not so subtly criticising mum's lack of ecumenicism in his sermons, hides in his study losing himself in his bird books. Ben's Mum is also a caricature. She is a self-righteous, stern, overbearing, I wear the pants in this house, self-proclaimed "ambassador of God" who puts on school plays about Christ, takes in the poor Mr. Finsham (Jim Norton), likewise a caricature, who ran over his wife with his car, and uses guilt to make her son do a lot of things including trying to get him to become an "ambassador of Christ" in her image.

After one of mum's guilt trips Ben answers an add in the Hello Jesus classifieds and becomes the assistant to the eccentric, to say the least, "Dame" Evie Walton (Julie Walters giving her usual outstanding performance), a caricature of the elder actress who has fallen onto such hard times that she once had to take a part in a soap opera on Sky. Ben helps Evie around the house and with her outdoor chores, Eventually Ben and Edie become fast friends revelling in the joys of the Bard, Chekhov, poetry, and camping under the stars.

When Evie asks Ben to drive her to Scotland so she can read poetry to the Edinburgh Book Festival literary crowd Ben takes his first hesitant driving lesson in being an adult since by doing so he is rebelling against his mum's since she has told him he can't. In Edinburgh Ben's driving lessons toward manhood that Evie began continue. Bryoney (Michelle Duncan), the young woman who meets Evie when she arrives for the Edinburgh Literary Festival, introduces Ben to clubbing, drinking, and sex. Unfortunately, Ben's rite of passage manhood causes Ben to break a promise to Evie that he would be with her when she gives her poetry reading in front of Edinburgh's festival goers. He arrives too late to save Evie from stage fright but he does help her off the stage and takes her, after a night on a lovely loch, back home.

Once back in London mum puts Ben and Evie in their places thanks thanks to the tried and true methods of laying on the guilt and plain lying. Just when all looks lost for Ben, however, Ben rebels. He runs offstage during the play mum is putting on about Jesus and goes off to Evie's. Unable to rouse Evie from her drunken nap Ben returns to adolescent servitude as a eucalyptus tree in mum's play. But all is not lost. Evie hears Ben, gets up, grabs a London cab, and goes to the school hall entering it as though she is the ultimate revivalist the largely evangelical crowd has been waiting for. Mum's infidelity is revealed. Mr. Fincham, dressed in mum's clothes, runs yet another woman over, mum, Dad growns a pair and divorces mum, and Ben decides to become his own man moving into a tent in his Dad's backyard, getting a job at a book store, and deciding to go to school in Edinburgh to study literature. Happy ending. Eccentrics and their eccentricities saved so they can live another day.

I found the coming of age, road trip buddy movie, boy learns life lessons from an eccentric older woman, eccentricity triumphs over authoritarian conformity Driving Lessons interesting if formulaic and cliched film which reminded me quite a bit of another boy learns life lessons from an older more experienced "Dame" film with some black comedy, road movie, and buddy movie in it, 1971's Harold and Maude. I liked Driving Lessons plea for eccentricity but not enough to overcome its caricatured characters, its silly ending, and its indie alt rock/pop soundtrack which seemed more an attempt to appeal to the Grint demographic than to provide a mood for the film or to say something about what was going on in the minds of the characters in the film, two things that Cat Stevens's music in Harold and Maude did in spades. I give Driving Lessons two and a half stars.

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