There are movies that are hard to categorize, but you always find yourself lumping them all together the same. Driving Lessons falls into that familiar yet unnamable category of independent drama. Well, it was unnamable until my brilliant friend Kate (that's K8 to all you blog fans) came up with a great name for the genre—the Commonwealth Comedy. To quote the brilliant woman herself, "This humourous film generally centers on a somewhat odd, yet real, scenario and introduces its audience to an eccentric group of heroes and villains. Most importantly, these movies tend to originate from Great Britain or one of their many remaining commonwealths. Thus, the Commonwealth Comedy." That, my friends, is Driving Lessons in a nutshell.
A coming-of-age story in the vein of HAROLD AND MAUDE without the sexual tension, Driving Lessons is about a young man named Ben Marshall (Rupert Grint) who's been tucked quite securely under his mother’s (Laura Linney) wing for far too long. When she persuades him to find a job, Ben begins working for retired actress Evie Walton (played brilliantly by Julie Walters).
I’m not going to lie. I wanted to see this movie because I love Rupert Grint. I love Harry Potter, and I love Ron, so naturally I would have an affinity towards the cute-as-a-button kid who plays Ron. I am delighted to say, even though there are definite reflections of Ron, Rupert Grint doesn’t disappoint. Grint plays Ben with so much perfected awkwardness that I found myself urging someone to give the guy a good shake to loosen him up. Even when Ben finds himself at a club dancing with a pretty girl, his shoulders are still hunched and his smile never completely lets loose.
It's all probably because Ben's mother is a teensie bit overbearing and extremely Christian. Now wait a minute; don't beat me up. I have no problems with people being Christian. In fact, I tend to think it's a good thing for people to have good ideals. But Laura Marshall is one of those showy Christians--the ones who think it's a sin to sit in the back of the church. She believes that every good deed she does must be broadcast from the rooftops so everyone knows she's done a good deed. The overpowering need to be perfect makes Ben, as well as his father (Nicholas Farrell) a bit...um...well...quiet.
This inability to emote shows in Ben's horrendous driving skills. He can't relax behind the wheel and finds himself running into a trashcan when he's taking his driving test. His mother wants him to keep taking driving lessons not really because she wants him to get better but because she wants to have the control.
When Ben begins spending his days with Evie, she slowly but surely sucks him into her world. At first, like he is with his driving, he’s scared out of his mind. When Evie tricks him into a camping trip, though, Ben finds a part of him that he didn’t know was there…and soon his driving, as well as his life, begins improving.
Like most Commonwealth Comedies, this film is a bit predictable. It’s pretty obvious that good things will happen to Ben, and he will break out of his goody-two-shoes life to become his own man. But who cares! The greatest thing about a good independent film is the story that gets you to that ending and the characters involved. Evie and Ben’s story is a wonderful one—a story that reminds everyone friendships can span generations and be more meaningful than family sometimes.
Writer/Director Jeremy Brock penned this script specifically for Walters and Grint, and it definitely shows. The familiarity the two have developed working together in the past (Walters plays Mrs. Weasley if you didn't know) shines on screen. This is probably the reason the middle of the movie is far better than the beginning. Ben’s life before Evie is mundane, and he sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore the scenes are slightly mundane and a bit awkward. Once Ben becomes a part of Evie’s world, the film definitely picks up, and makes up for the slow beginning.
When he leaves her world and returns to his mundaneness, it's all the more depressing to look at the life his mother has built for him. For all her showy Christian ways, the woman could learn a lot from her far more Christian family.
I think this movie is adorable and endearing, yet it is definitely not for everyone. If you find yourself turning your nose up to the likes of Strictly Ballroom or Blow Dry, maybe you should stick to watching Walters and Grint in Harry Potter, but if you like your stories small, quirky, and wonderfully (if predictably) charming, give Driving Lessons a try. Oh, and if you've never heard of Blow Dry, and you do like these kinds of movies, make it a Harry Potter character weekend. Blow Dry stars the lovely Alan Rickman.