Driving Lessons

2006, Movie, PG-13, 97 mins


Julie Waters' fine performance helps center this sentimental British drama about a young Londoner who escapes his sanctimonious, hypocritical mother's influence through the friendship of an aging actress. Seventeen-year-old Ben Marshall (HARRY POTTER's Rupert Grint) is desperate to pass his road test. But rather than let him take lessons from a professional, his officious mother, Laura (Laura Linney), the wife of a hapless Anglican priest (Nicholas Farrell), insists on teaching Ben herself, primarily because these driving lessons afford her the opportunity to canoodle with handsome young deacon Peter (Oliver Milburn). Despite her adultery, Laura professes to be a perfect Christian, but while Ben's father preaches about the humble nature of Christ's teachings, Laura flaunts her piety in the showiest way possible, going so far as to invite Mr. Fincham (Jim Norton), a parishioner who ran over his wife with his car, to move in with her family until he can regain his footing. In order to help Mr. Fincham financially, Laura pushes Ben to look for a job. He finds one working as an assistant to Dame Evie Walton (Walters), an aging doyenne of the British stage who, much to her chagrin, is better known for her campy role on a cheesy '80s daytime soap than for her Shakespeare. Evie at first appears a difficult, temperamental diva, but Ben soon discovers the lonely woman beneath the salty, profane exterior. Evie, in turn, discovers the heart of a poet within this "pedantic," "socially autistic" lad, and encourages Ben to think of himself as a man of words. Laura, however, isn't keen on some "actress" laying claim to the boy she so effectively keeps under her thumb — and who provides her with a handy cover for her infidelity — and forbids Ben to accompany Evie on the camping trip she's dreamt of taking her entire life. Evie tricks Ben into driving her to a campground and, when he then refuses to continue to Edinburgh where she's due to participate in a literary reading, manipulates him by sharing a secret: She's dying. Written and directed by screenwriter Jeremy Brock (MRS. BROWN, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), the film plays to Walters' strengths as a grand dame of light British drama, and in one extraordinarily well-written scene, in which she recalls a child she lost, Walters transcends the cliches of her character and an embarrassing denouement. Linney, however, is less fortunate: Her character is written as a one-dimensional monster whose selfish cruelty is beyond redemption and, ultimately, belief. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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