Review: 'Learning to Drive' Still Needs Lessons

James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in Learning to Drive. Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures
Precision and timing are two of the most important factors that prevent car accidents. You must always remain focused because chances are if you’re not paying attention and someone else isn’t paying attention then you might one day meet each other while behind the wheel.
Driving references are not only tempting to this critic but clearly to writer Sarah Kernochan, who bombards as many scenes of driving with a comparison to real life as much as possible. The film follows Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a woman who tries to pull her life together after an ugly divorce by taking driving lessons from taxi driver Darwan (Ben Kingsley). His methods as a teacher tend to Wendy’s fear of facing the world in a delicate way so that she is able to navigate her life back together.
And this is really hammered in by director Isabel Coixet. That’s the biggest problem; Coixet makes really good points about certain subjects but then overdoes it to the point where your eyes are getting sick of rolling. Learning To Drive does succeed in showing the burgeoning friendship of people from two different cultures as they teach the other about different ways to handle their own personal problems.
Scenes like these turn out to be some of the highlights of the film. It also doesn’t shy away from post-9/11 racism in a city that prides itself on being a tolerant melting pot of different cultures. The subplot about Darwan’s friends dealing with immigration problems really could have made this film a more complex examination on what it’s like to “Look like a New Yorker”.
At one point during the film Darwan instructs Wendy to block all her problems out and focus on the road. However, had the director listened to the advice of her own characters, the film could have been something more. Instead, she throws in unnecessary moments where Wendy is daydreaming that offer nothing new to the plot. Clarkson and Kingsley do have charming enough chemistry to keep you entertained. However, the film ends up getting sidetracked by following conventions of other, better films.
With such bigger and more important issues at the cusp of their fingertips Learning To Drive plays it way too safe, forgetting that some times the most memorable rides are on the roads less taken.
Overall Grade: C

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