Learning to Drive is a romantic comedy with dramatic overtones that takes place in Manhattan. A new divorcee, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), decides to learn how to drive. Driving is not something everyone in New York City chooses to do, and despite her fears, she employs the services of Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a Sikh gentleman who is a taxi driver and instructor in the ways of the road for wannabee travelers.
I enjoyed the way we stepped into both Wendy’s and Darwan’s lives, comparing and contrasting the cultures they live in. Darwan is brand new into an arranged marriage with someone from India he’s just met, while Wendy is newly divorced from her husband Ted (Jake Weber) of 21 years. They find they have significant commonalities, as Darwan is an educated man who was a professor in India, and Wendy is a very intelligent woman who works as a book reviewer.
They support each other emotionally, and as Wendy learns to drive, she learns to take the driver’s seat in her life. Her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) is living in Vermont, which is the impetus for Wendy wanting her driver’s license to be able to go visit her.
I also liked the way the film addressed racial profiling, and the trials of immigrants in the United States. It is up to you the viewer to decide for yourself what the most appropriate policies are about immigration and how the people in this film were treated.
My husband watched the film with me, staying for the whole movie so I think it’s a film both men and women would appreciate. It’s an intelligent film and when he saw the name Katha Pollitt as the inspiration for the screenplay, he recognized the name as someone who writes for The Nation. Sure enough, he was right, and she wrote the short story upon which the film is based. Katha is a progressive author and journalist. Nice to see thoughtful films actually being made, even if they don’t make a ton of money at the box office.
Something that troubled me a bit was the casting of Ben Kingsley in the role of Darwan, an Indian Sikh man. Ben is British. I suppose they selected him for the name to promote the film more effectively, but I really think an Indian man should have played that role. However, he did play Gandhi for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Darwan’s wife Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) is a beautiful woman and I loved the way she dressed. I have a fascination for Indian culture I admit, and her clothes were absolutely gorgeous.
I recommend Learning to Drive. It is rated R for language and sexual content, probably mostly for a brief sexual encounter between Wendy and a friend of her sister’s that is actually quite comical.
As an aside, Grace Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep. She is a good actress, and I particularly enjoyed her role in The Newsroom. Check it out.