Learning To Drive

 

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Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley play very different New Yorkers as they negotiate 

vehicular and marital traffic in Manhattan.

 

Learning to Drive

  

Following the break-up of her marriage, New York literary critic Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) decides to take driving lessons so that she can visit her daughter (Grace Gummer) in Vermont. Her instructor is the mild-mannered Sikh Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley), who takes the racism around him on the chin and waits patiently for the arrival of Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a woman he has never met. She is to be his wife, an arrangement orchestrated by his sister back in India. Yet he seems to have far more in common with the Manhattan intellectual who’s coming to terms with living on her own…

 

Adapted from an autobiographical article by Katha Pollitt in The New Yorker, Learning to Drive does rather feel like an adaptation of a New Yorker article. It’s erudite and slight, an elegant diversion elevated by two terrific actors. Ben Kingsley is at the top of his game, combining stillness and grace, something he’s perfected in such films as Gandhi, Schindler’s List and House of Sand and Fog, and in very few opportunities in-between. Patricia Clarkson is always good value and finds the perfect timbre of her character, whether in states of frustration, mild irony or total humiliation. She’s also sexy.

 

In fact, under the direction of the Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet, all the actors excel, with Grace Gummer – in her few scenes – showing that she has all the grit and naturalism of her older sister, Mamie Gummer (both are the daughters of Meryl Streep). But this is minor Coixet, a slender if highly pleasurable distraction, somewhat diminished by Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks's unnecessary and somewhat patronising music.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury, Grace Gummer, Avi Nash, Samantha Bee, Matt Salinger, Daniela Lavender.

 

Dir Isabel Coixet, Pro Dana Friedman and Daniel Hammond, Screenplay Sarah Kernochan, Ph Manel Ruiz, Pro Des Dania Saragovia, Ed Thelma Schoonmaker, Music Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks.

 

Lavender Pictures/Core Pictures-Vertigo Releasing.

89 mins. USA/UK. 2014. Rel: 10 June 2016. Cert. 15.