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In “Learning To Drive” Wendi (Patricia Clarkson) is a successful writer and book critic who we meet as her husband (Jake Weber) is leaving for another woman. Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a driving instructor who is an American citizen after looking for political asylum having been a prisoner in India. In addition he is working a second job as a taxi driver and is about to embark in an arranged marriage with an older woman (Sarita Choudhury) from his previous country.
Wendi, being a New Yorker--“Queens is not New York” --has never learned, never needed to learn how to drive--”With buses, cabs and trains you don’t have to learn to drive in New York (Manhattan)--consequently you know these two people will be thrown together especially with Darwan a straight ahead, sage, correct way of thinking, metaphor spouting wise man and Wendi a writer with imagination, no discipline, who only in her writing is focused and otherwise not too smart about other people.
Darwan, as a cab driver, witnesses the break up between Wendi and her husband as they are his fares after the two storm out of a restaurant. Wendi’s daughter, Tasher (Grace Gummer) goes to school in Vermont, and works on a farm, so in order to see her daughter--”My husband always did the driving”--which is not near any accessible transportation, she decides to take driving lessons and the two people of different temperaments, cultures, different thoughts on marriage are brought together for this ‘small’ independent movie. No, it doesn’t go where you think it will but only by a near miss.
Ben Kingsley, having a thicker accent than he did as Ghandi, brings more to the role than the script gives him in scenes as when he is harassed for his race or talks about what happened to him in India while Patricia Clarkson is luminous and at the same time, within the same scene, uncomprehending what is happening to her. There is a funny sex scene with a blind date and Samantha Bee has the best, and funniest line, in the movie playing Wendi’s sister.
The two leads, as expected give excellent performances, Jake Weber is strong in his scenes with Clarkson and this is the first time I have been impressed with Grace Gummer though her role is woefully underwritten. Sarita Choudhury introduces an interesting aspect to the film which could have added another dimension if the screenplay by Sarah Kernochan and the direction by Isabel Coixet had followed through.
“Learning How To Drive” is a 90 minute movie that holds your attention with the acting, what the film could have been and what it does and doesn’t do in the short running time.



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