September 19, 2015

‘Learning to Drive’ … takes unexpected turns

This is a delightful movie starring Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley and co-starring New York City.

Living can be challenging in New York City whether you are a successful literary critic or a new U.S. citizen/Sikh immigrant harboring an undocumented relative. If you’re a lifelong New Yorker who’s never needed to drive anywhere, taking driver training in Manhattan can be daunting. If you’re a well-educated former college professor from India granted political asylum because your life was threatened, teaching driving as well as driving a taxi can be humiliating.

But that’s what brings together two human beings in a city teeming with countless other human beings. Wendy (Clarkson), the book critic, has lost the driver in her household in the divorce. Darwan (Kingsley) is struggling to make ends meet as a driving instructor and cab driver while waiting for his “arranged marriage bride” to arrive. What unfolds between the two is tender, painful, precarious and very thoughtful.

Eventually the two discuss marriage, fidelity and love. Wendy wants to know about Darwan’s arranged marriage. He meets his bride for the first time when he picks her up at JFK airport. Wendy’s most curious and asks him about love. “Love is the path to God,” he says without hesitancy.

But we also see the attraction between teacher and student. Sometimes the tension is uncomfortable as well as frustrating. But hope in both of them surmounts obstacles and integrity becomes joyous.

The sub-plots flesh out this movie with family systems conflicts, discrimination, and racial profiling. But self-discovery is the overarching theme here and it is beautiful to watch unfold on the screen. This story is the best of human weakness turned into resilient strength.

Interestingly, the behind the scenes story about this film is also a show of resilient strength. 'Learning to Drive' is produced by Dana Friedman, directed by Isabel Coixet, screenplay by Sarah Kernochan and based upon a short story written by Katha Pollitt. Yes, all the head honchos in putting this film together are women, and in the film industry today that is an anomaly. According to Brent Lang, senior film and media reporter for Variety magazine, “Over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the 250 top grossing films declined by 2% and the percentage of women working as writers, editors and producers dropped.”

'Learning to Drive' contains a gentle, understated, wisdom that gives us a taste of the authenticity that can be present in a film when the people who put it together are not preoccupied with box office receipts measured by special effects, excessive soundtracks and rampant violence. Something special shines throughout this film. Perhaps it has to do with the gumption and skill it took to put this film together. Congratulations to these remarkable women film makers. God is good.

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