Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Learning to Drive": gentle story about a mundane skill brings together narratives of two marriages

When I saw that a movie titled “Learning to Drive” (2015, directed by Isabel Coixet), I first wondered of it could be about Saudi women finally getting some independence. In fact, my own maternal grandmother in Ohio didn’t drive, as in the 1930s and 40s, many “moms” didn’t have to.

In fact, the heroine is an established writer and book critic, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson). Some of the lines in the screenplay make a pitch for books being sold as such. As the movie opens, she is riding home (a brownstone in upper Manhattan) in a cab with her husband Ted (Jake Weber), who suddenly announces he’s leaving her.  Shocked, she leaves a book manuscript in the cab.

When the driver (Ben Kingsley) returns the manuscript to her home, he gently talks her into getting some independence by taking his driving lessons.  This gives the movie a chance to explore the life of a Sikh man here on political asylum, and going through an arranged marriage (he says relatives know you and your spouse better than you do) and sheltering an appealing illegal Sikh young man (Avi Nash) from ICE.  So the movie slides into today’s debate on immigration.

Some of the script deals with Ted’s motive for leaving her. He says she ignores him, and is too lost in her own world of words.  But he also going with a younger woman.  But she seems to have been the financial support for the family (including a now college-age daughter), and he seems to have a motive to want to take some of her assets. Marriage is turning out to be a bad deal after 21 years old.  So she soon explores “men” herself.

Some of the climax of the film deals with something as mundane as passing a driving test (after a minor accident). 

I didn’t actually learn to drive until 18 (took it in summer school right after graduation), but today kids mature much faster.

The official site is here. The film comes from Broad Green Pictures, which seems to be arranging big older stars to make small-ball dramas.

I saw the film late Wednesday at Angelia Mosaic before a small audience. Later on Thursday, I had to take the Sikh's advice, that "the road is all there is when you drive" to heart.  Pulling out of a parking lot, I saw a cyclist (going the wrong way) strike a pedestrian, no injuries  Later a woman walked against the light, because the crosswalk was far enough away form the light on the other side of the intersection to fool a pedestrian into believing she has the right of away on a busy street. And then a big van to the right could not stay in its lane. 

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