Film-Forward Review: [DRIVING LESSONS]

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Rupert Grint as Ben
Photo: Jay Maidment/Sony Pictures Classics

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DRIVING LESSONS
Written & Directed by: Jeremy Brock.
Produced by: Julia Chasman.
Director of Photography: David Katznelson.
Edited by: Trevor Waite.
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics.
Country of Origin: UK. 98 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Julie Walters, Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Nicholas Farrell & Oliver Milburn.

An out-of-work actress with melodramatic airs, billowing, colorful clothes, and a penchant for lying is a breath of fresh air for Ben, played with convincing teenage angst by Rupert Grint (famous for being Harry Potter's gangly friend Ron). However, Evie (Julie Walters) is not just fresh air. She's a full-on monsoon that will forever alter his landscape.

At home, his mother, Laura (Laura Linney), is so Anglican she married a vicar, Ben's introverted father, Robert (Nicholas Farrell). The two parents combined have produced a son who is so awkward he's painful to watch. When Evie hires him as her assistant and steals him away from his suburban bubble, it pops entirely. But what makes this film charming is that it's just as much about Evie's transformation as it is about Ben's coming of age. His eventual support for the damaged woman, broken down by failed marriages and the loss of her son, heals her. By the end, both have become comfortable in their own skin as a result of their friendship.

There's hilarity spread throughout all of this, but it's predictable fare. This isnít to say the film is bad or not worth seeing, but as soon as you see Ben lumber out of Lauraís house of oppressive repression and into Evieís menagerie of incense and eclectic objects, you can smell whatís happening from a mile away. Walters is a romp as the aging non-starlet, and Grint is genuinely deserving to be a lead actor in his own right. (There's no doubt in my mind that you'll be seeing him long after the Harry Potter franchise is over.)

There's an obvious comparison to Harold and Maude to be made. On the one hand, there are a lot more entertaining moments of humor and affection here than in the 1971 classic. But everything that made that film so iconic and different is mundane here. Instead of shoplifting and grand theft like Maude, Evie goes camping. Instead of being so depressed that Haroldís favorite pastime is to fake his own death for an audience, Ben gulps a lot at pretty girls. They are just two average people in need of some self-esteem. Besides Ben's mother being a raging, crazy hypocrite (who, by the by, slips in and out of her English accent like she got stuck in the Atlantic and couldn't decide which continent to land on), Laura takes in murdering transvestites as houseguests. Other than these darker elements, Driving Lessons is little more than a fun feel-good movie with a message about accepting who you already are, a theme that has become a British staple. Zachary Jones
October 13, 2006

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