A review of Isabel Coixet’s “Learning to Drive,” which pairs two fine actors en route to an enchanting connection. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Every now and then a movie comes along that, while breaking no new ground, leaves its viewers quietly happy, the way you feel after a not-very-eventful afternoon with a beloved friend. Isabel Coixet’s “Learning to Drive,” which showcases two great actors finding an enchanting connection, is one of those films. Patricia Clarkson, she of that marvelously velvet voice, is Wendy, a Brooklyn book critic whose husband (Jake Weber) has left her for another woman; Ben Kingsley, all quiet yet mesmerizing dignity, is Darwan, a Sikh Indian cabbie whom Wendy, still simmering over the betrayal, hires to teach her how to drive.
From here, the movie proceeds as a series of set pieces. We see Wendy in her book-filled home, drinking too much wine, arguing with her grown daughter (Grace Gummer) and trying to make sense of what’s happened to her. We see Darwan in his dark Queens apartment, as he prepares for an arranged marriage to Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), whom he meets only when she arrives at the airport, carefully carrying her wedding dress. And, mostly, we see Wendy and Darwan together in his instruction car, as Wendy nervously navigates streets that suddenly seem terribly foreign while Darwan intones soothing advice: “Every time it will get easier.” “Teach yourself to see everything.” “You can’t always trust people to behave properly.” (“Ain’t that the truth,” murmurs Wendy.)
All this is perhaps too spot-on a metaphor for Wendy’s new life — “Today you are going over a bridge,” announces Darwan, right on schedule with Wendy’s recovery — but it doesn’t matter a bit; spending time with these two characters, and these two expressive faces, is a pleasure. (As is Clarkson’s slyly funny imitation of an NPR voice, when Wendy does a radio interview; she’s so purry you look for the catnip.)
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Learning to Drive,’ with Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury, Grace Gummer. Directed by Isabel Coixet, from a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan. 89 minutes. Rated R for language and sexual content. Seven Gables, Lincoln Square, Pacific Place.
“Learning to Drive” isn’t a love story, though it gently flirts with the idea; instead, it’s a beautifully acted tale of friendship, and about how sometimes, you just need to move forward — in a car, or otherwise.
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