A film about lessons big and small,
in "Learning to Drive" New York literary critic Wendy Shields (Patricia
Clarkson) decides she must finally learn to drive after a divorce. Her
instructor, Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley) is himself undergoing a
transition as he prepares for his impending arranged marriage. In their
time together both in and out of the car, each becomes less set in his
and her ways as Wendy and Darwan come to learn that life lessons are a
Based on an essay that appeared in the New Yorker in 2002 by Katha
Pollitt based on her own experience, the film took about nine years to
come to the screen, shepherded by Clarkson and producer Dana Friedman.
"I was always taken by the essay," Clarkson said. "I just thought it
was funny, I thought it was genuinely funny, adult, intricate and had
just enough melancholy to make me really love it. It just worked for
film also falls in with a recent run of films starring actresses such
as Blythe Danner, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin in which personal growth
can come at any stage of life.
"What I like best about this film
is this isn't another story of another woman finding herself," said the
Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning Clarkson. "My generation of women, we
don't need to find ourselves, we know ourselves. What Wendy finds
through Darwan is a better self. She just needed to look up."
Sarah Kernochan changed the driving instructor from Filipino in the
original story to that of a Sikh Indian, adding different layers to the
character, including political asylum and arranged marriage. While
Clarkson's co-star, Kingsley, may have a somewhat flashier role in his
transformation into a Sikh cab driver and driving instructor, Clarkson
was still plenty challenged by the character of Wendy.
"She has a
lot going on," she said. "Scenes that have to go high and low, in a
moment. She's a mercurial woman, and it required the best of me in every
moment. I had to dip and weave, every second. It was so funny and
tragic, sometimes simultaneously."
the film, now playing in Los Angeles, premiered at last year's Toronto
International Film Festival it was runner-up for the coveted audience
award behind winner "The Imitation Game." In a recent review in the New
York Times, Stephen Holden said "Learning to Drive" has "a lighthearted
gloss to a delicate film that steers clear of preaching or of slipping
into mawkishness." In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Rechtshaffen said
the film makes for "a welcome, grown-up escape from all that summer
The film reunites Clarkson and Kingsley with Spanish
director Isabel Coixet. The trio previously worked together on the 2008
Philip Roth adaptation "Elegy," which also starred Penelope Cruz, and
that film had a much different tone and feel than "Learning to Drive."
fact, Coixet, whose other films include 2005's "The Secret Life of
Words" and "Nobody Wants the Night," which premiered earlier this year
at the Berlin International Film Festival, acknowledged that the warm,
gentle tone of the "Learning to Drive" was for her something new.
have made really dark and sad and melancholy movies. I knew from the
beginning that to me this had to be different," Coixet said. "I have to
say, for me, for my nature, it wasn't easy. It's easy to find the
tragedy and find the dark aspects of human nature.
"For me it was probably the most difficult film I've ever done. My instincts go the exact opposite way."
notable about the film is that it is co-edited by Oscar-winner Thelma
Schoonmaker, who in recent years has worked less frequently outside her
storied collaboration with Martin Scorsese. Sharing credit with Paul
Hicks on the film's original music is Dhani Harrison, son of the late
Both Kingsley and Clarkson noted that part of the
reason they were drawn to working with Coixet again is her unusual
technique of operating the camera herself. That often puts the director
in close proximity to her actors, as Coixet was at times stuffed in the
back seat of a car with the actors in the front, Clarkson actually
Watch the trailer for the film "Learning to Drive."
feel that I'm telling Isabel a story, on a highly personal level,"
Kingsley said. "And I know that it is going into her lens and into her
eyepiece. It is very different from other experiences when the director,
for whatever reason, may be 20 yards away in a trailer watching a
"She is truly present," Clarkson said. "She sees
everything, she sees it all. She's right there. I find it comforting;
it's not an intrusion. I know she's going to truly see it."
creating the character of Darwan, Kingsley did not do the sort of
actorly research or spending time in a specific community one might
"I learn my lines," Kingsley said. "I learn his story, and then everything else falls into place intuitively."
was a Sikh technical advisor on set to help Kingsley properly wrap his
turban, and the actor drew from the Sikh driver and bodyguard he still
strongly remembers while shooting his Oscar-winning title role in 1982's
added, "I love changing my body language and my voice. I think if I
find the voice, I hopefully find where it comes from in his body and
things do adjust. Once I've chosen a character, it's almost in my DNA."
though Wendy and Darwan come to have deep feelings for one another,
each having taught the other something along the way, the film keeps
their relationship outside the realm of romance.
"This is not a
chaste love affair," Clarkson said. "The truth of the matter is, it is
really a beautiful story about friendship."
Though the film took a
number of years to bring to fruition, having it come out at this moment
could hardly seem better. A recent USC study found that, of the top 100
grossing films of 2014, there were 21 films with a female lead or
co-lead but that none of those roles were for a character 45 or older.
this year such films as "I'll See You In My Dreams" starring Blythe
Danner, "Ricki and the Flash" starring Meryl Streep and "Grandma"
starring Lily Tomlin have all featured as their lead roles characters
well past their ingénue years.
think people just realize there is an audience for this," Clarkson
said. "There are men and women of a certain age who want to see films
that represent them and they can relate to. And that they can genuinely
laugh at and maybe genuinely shed a tear over. Because it's still rare."
Read the article here