With yet another dreary school holiday coming around for the shy and downtrodden Ben (Rupert Grint) things couldn't get worse. Seventeen years of living in an absurdly conservative and traditional household with his overbearing mother (Laura Linney) and quiet, mild mannered vicar father (Nicholas Farrell), have taken their toll. Ben spends these precious few weeks attending bible classes, having (unsuccessful) driving lessons with his mother and helping out at the old people's home. Ben's world is turned upside down when he is employed as her part time assistant and gofer by an eccentric retired actress, Evie (Julie Walters). Evie's unconventional, often bizarre behaviour challenges Ben's beliefs and forces him to confront the very idea of who he wants to be.
Review by Louise Keller:
When Rupert Grint's Ben reads his poem to a girl, he is told he's 'just too weird'. But it's not only the poetry in the life of the seventeen year old that is weird. Everything in his life is off kilter - from the ultra Christian fabric in which his daily life is immersed, to Julie Walter's wildly eccentric retired actress Evie, with whom he forges a relationship. This is a warmly funny coming of age story as the ultra conservative clashes with the unconventional in a confluence of the unexpected.
Eve is looking for a playmate and companion, while Ben doesn't know what he is looking for. "Life is confusing," she says to him, as they set up camp in the wilds of Scotland on their way to a writer's convention. Ben's relationship with the unpredictable Eve begins when his Christian charity obsessed mother Laura (Laura Linney with a flawless English accent) suggests he find a part time job and contribute to the wellbeing of the cross-dressing, post-trauma Mr. Fincham (Jim Norton). Ben's minister father (Nicholas Farrell) practises bird-calls and buries himself in his books about birds in a bid to escape from home life, but it is not until Eve literally kidnaps Ben, that he discovers his salvation - and himself.
Learning to drive is the metaphor used to illustrate Ben's journey. From a passive youngster bullied into playing a Eucalypt tree in his mother's church play to the mature young man sprouting poetry by starlight and taking his destiny into his own hands, his unexpected driving lessons advances him great distances - literally and figuratively. The essence of the film lies in the relationship between the elderly eccentric Eve and the impressionable, polite Ben. 'Thank God he swears!' she squeals with delight, when making it impossible for him to go home. She is the catalyst that shakes up the family and more importantly allows Ben to see through the prism of hypocrisies in which he is a prisoner. It's a charming and thoroughly enjoyable film with Grint capably shaking off his Harry Potter sidekick image.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Writer Jeremy Brock has an impeccable track record, having scripted (or co-scripted) Mrs Brown, Charlotte Gray and The Last King of Scotland. But this is his directing debut, and somehow it's a bit gangly like a youngster who is yet to find equilibrium. If the original cut was more cohesive, it's a pity it's been hacked about a bit, because there is promise in the premise and the cast is from cinematic heaven.
Julie Walters delivers a remarkable performance of the veteran actress in a characterisation that's surprising for its total departure from anything she has done before. Her elocution is perfect for the role, and her physicality astonishing, as she stoops to conquer the most unpredictable character in the film. She can switch from amiable old snob to foul mouthed selfish in a nanosecond.
Rupert Grint is a gormless looking young man, encouraged here to take gormlessness to extremes as Ben bounces from oh-so Christian but oh-so fakely happy home to Evie's garden of life abundant, where she struggles to prune her wild bushes. Grint retains a quiet desperation throughout, only liberated after a dramatic incident with his family.
Laura Linney matches Walters with a smooth middle class English accent and a cool, brittle personality as Ben's mother. The writing or editing or both have truncated her so that she doesn't seem quite multi dimensional. Likewise the story jumps over inconvenient needs of a credible progress line in small things, hoping we'll just go along with it for the sake of the big picture and emotional arc. The finale also lacks credibility, at least not in the same tone as most of the film. Where these shifts in tone occur, it's like tectonic plates shifting - a jarring event. For all that, the film has many pluses, a few good laughs and some lovely English eccentricities.
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DRIVING LESSONS (M)
CAST: Julie Walters, Laura Linney, Rupert Grint, Nicholas Farrell, Jim Norton, Michelle Duncan, Oliver Milburn, Tamsin Egerton
PRODUCER: Julia Chasman
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Brock
SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Katznelson
EDITOR: Trevor Waite
MUSIC: Clive Carroll, John Renbourn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robin Fraser-Paye
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 7, 2007