When her 20 years of marriage comes to an abrupt and painful end, Wendy finds herself heartbroken and unable to move forward – in more ways than one. The process of beginning to move on from her failed marriage is linked to her attempts to learn to drive. Two decades of dependency on someone else getting her from A to B must now come to an end. So begins a series of driving lessons with the kind-hearted Darwan. Predictably, these lessons become something more than just learning to drive a vehicle. Like many driving movies, particularly the ones about learning to drive, here the journey is a metaphorical one; location Wendy. Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson play the central characters who are initially presented as being worlds apart before discovering they have much to learn from one another. Learning to Drive risks being a patronising study of diversity and stereotypes but delicately unpacks its characters, giving them more complexities than initially expected. Terribly cheesy and slightly forced, Learning to Drive is a mediocre study of middle age anxiety and isolation from the world around us. The occasional clichéd situation and weak, insincere line of dialogue tarnish this otherwise enjoyable fluff piece about the importance of being true to one’s self and walking a mile in another man’s shoes.
Ben Kingsley’s as understated and powerful as ever but in the wake of the industry being heavily criticised for casting white actors in ethnic roles I couldn’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable with him playing the part of a man from India. He treats his character with respect and sincerity but I couldn’t help but wish an Indian actor had been cast. Patricia Clarkson is raw and strained as Wendy. Every vein pops and her fragility is visible on her surface. It’s terribly difficult to like Wendy, making it even harder to care about her grief surrounding the divorce. I couldn’t help but acknowledge that I would definitely have divorced her. The script lets down the actors and all do their best with the jarring lines they’re often given. Learning to Drive is a predictable, trashy drama in which two people touch each other’s lives in gentle but forceful ways; fine for passing a turbulent plane journey but not much else. The film’s highlight is its exceptional music composition by Dhani Harrison.
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