Driving Lessons

2007-08-14 12:56
What it’s about

Summer holidays are here and Ben has nothing to look forward to except bible classes and driving lessons. Boredom and his mom’s prodding convince him to look for a job. He finds work looking after, Evie, an eccentric retired actress. Evie and Ben develop a close friendship, which offers Ben the chance to discover himself and form his own opinions on life. This coming of age drama sees Ben develop from a nervous, shy boy into an ordinary teenager.

What we thought of it:

Driving Lessons is billed a comedy, but this gentle coming of age story is hardly a laugh a minute. It’s really more of a drama centred around three main characters, Ben, his mother and Evie.

Since the film is heavily character driven, strong acting is essential and it is also what saves the movie in the end. Julie Walters is brilliant as Evie and almost steals the show. Her Evie is loud and outgoing, strings of swear words fly out her mouth as she wrestles with the hedges, and she often passes out from drinking too much. But though the character is eccentric, perhaps even a little crazy, Walters also portrays her as a lonely woman with a big heart and a few humble dreams. The audience easily falls in love with her.

Ben’s mother Laura (Laura Linney) is the opposite of Evie - authoritarian, uptight and extremely conservative. Ben is a pawn in his mother’s hands and much of the movie’s action is situated around Ben’s first ever disobedience of his mother’s rules.

It is clear first time director Jeremy Brock, wants the audience to root for Evie and does his best to paint Laura as an unstable, controlling monster. Brock’s depiction of the mother as a deranged terror is too predictable at times, but Linney’s brilliant performance breathes live into what would have been a formulaic character.

Ben (Rupert Grint) is stuck in the middle between these two women - both of them fighting for his soul. With each new challenge that his character faces, he grows and learns to become more vocal. Rupert Grint’s acting is believable throughout even though at first he doesn’t talk much and mostly just stares, blushes and nods a lot.

Grint’s role in Driving Lessons does not much differ from the shy preteen he plays in the Harry Potter films, but it does prove that he is an actor in his own right. You never doubt his character and even without much dialogue the audience is always aware of Ben’s emotional state.

Despite having three captivating characters in the lead roles, the movie does have a few dull moments. But perhaps this is part of Brock’s message – the film does seem to be intentionally boring at times.

Ben has a solemnly boring father, who is entertained only by learning about birds and the noises they make. In fact, the majority of the characters seem to be entertained by simple and gravely boring activities. It seems the more religious the character the more dull they are.

Though religion is at the dramatic crux of the story, Brock has nothing new to say about it. He depicts two usual types of religious followers - the true (and normally dull) believers and the fakes, those who use religion for their own selfish purposes.

Brock’s portrayal of Laura is quite typical – on the outside she is a fanatical Christian, but in reality she disobeys most of God’s serious commandments. One of the downsides of the film is that it is riddled with such stereotypes. At least Brock still manages to convey a message through these stereotypes. His message: just because you are religious doesn’t necessarily make you a moral or happy person.

The charismatic acting is definitely the highlight of Driving Lessons and also the only good reason to go see it. If you are looking for a laugh-out-loud comedy or a love story, better give this one a skip.

- Annel Malan
Despite being as dull as an actual driving lesson at times, this film does give Rupert Grint the chance to prove himself a worthy actor.

Dries 2007/06/01 6:50 AM
Sounds good! I think I'll go watch it tonight..
Adriaan 2007/06/01 7:21 AM
Another predictable British "comedy" Best viewed at home. Saw it last night. It is already available on DVD from the video shops!
A 2007/06/01 6:14 PM
Sounds nice Gotta love Rupert grint
Frank 2007/07/22 10:28 PM
Driving Lessons Not great. Trashes Christian hypocracy but unfortunately also Christianity.
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