Truth be told, I have bad memories when I was learning to drive. Just like most kids, I was in Drivers-Ed and I was not particularly fond of the teacher due to his propensity for yelling. Needless to say I didn’t pass the initial test and had to take the test again at the DMV. In the end, I got the coveted driver’s license, but even after all that hassle I wasn’t filled with joy. It was more like apathy. I certainly can make a direct comparison to sitting through Learning to Drive. After the headache of sitting through a movie where I was suppose to empathize with the woman (Patricia Clarkson), I ended up leaving the film with nothing more than a little bit of that apathy I remember as a teen.
Learning to Drive is based on an autobiographical 2001 New Yorker article by Katha Pollitt. In the magazine piece, later published in Pollitt’s collection of stories, the longtime non-driving Manhattan resident bounces back from a breakup with a womanizing jerk by learning to drive. Student and teacher (Sir Ben Kingsley in this case, once again able to disappear seamlessly into any ethnicity) become close, with hints that more could come of it. The movie was well directed by Isabel Coixet, who’s attention to detail at least added some elements to a very lackluster script. If anything this movie is a lesson how not everything needs to be turned into a movie.
The source material did not allow for a ton of creativity. So what we had is a lot of just Kingsley and Clarkson on screen talking in a car and that grew mundane very quickly. I do think that Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley did what they could with the script, and were stellar given the circumstances.
I do wish that the movie had spent more time focusing on the inner turmoil of Patricia Clarkson’s character. Instead, we were mired in a narrative involving Ben Kingsley’s character being married in what seems to be an arranged marriage.
If you’re driving to the movies and you decide that Learning to Drive is the optimal choice … Just keep on driving.