After her husband leaves her, a Manhattan writer (Patricia Clarkson) finds solace in her biweekly lessons with a Sikh driving instructor (Ben Kingsley), in this adaptation of Katha Pollitt’s 2002 essay for The New Yorker.
Learning to Drive
Director Isabel Coixet's considerable body of cinematic work doesn't fit easily into categories, but it is clearly unified by the theme of communication, our infinitely nuanced decisions about what we do and don't say to each other. In her latest film, Learning to Drive, Coixet reunites with Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley (with whom she worked on her 2008 film Elegy) to tell a story of two people who must reconfigure their emotional language in order to move forward into new lives.
Wendy (Clarkson), a successful and self-obsessed book editor, comes home to her New York City brownstone one day to find her husband Ted (Jake Weber, also appearing at the Festival in Hungry Hearts) leaving her — again. But this time it's for good, and Wendy's initial denial turns into grief, anger, and a hard determination to become self-sufficient. That means learning to drive so she can visit her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) at college in Vermont. Wendy's determination wavers when she's faced with the confusing reality of an automobile dashboard, but fortunately she has Darwan (Kingsley), the world's most conscientious driving instructor. As Darwan guides Wendy through her automotive education, his patience invites her to open up about her problems. In turn, Wendy's volatile feelings about her changing marital status serve to highlight Darwan's deeply private concerns about his own impending marriage, and their relationship evolves in unexpected and touching ways.
Learning to Drive is a tender reminder that two people can achieve intimacy even in the unlikeliest of situations. In this highly observant and often sweetly funny film, Coixet allows her brilliant cast a great emotional expanse within which to move, and they take advantage of every mile.