By William Wolf


Absolutely charming is the best way to describe “Learning to Drive,” a gem of the2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Interlocking performances by Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley are luminous in this sensitive film directed by Isabel Coixet from a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan.

Clarkson is an actress many admire, and on this occasion she further strengthens her reputation playing Wendy, a woman who is down in the dumps after her husband leaves her. There she is in her New York City brownstone, and although she has a profession as a book editor, life suddenly seems a dead end. The one bright spot is a daughter Tasha, played by Grace Gummer.

It would help to be able to drive to see her at college in Vermont, but driving is not something that Wendy ever learned. What to do? It turns out that she begins to take lessons from driving teacher Darwan, played humbly by Ben Kinglsley, who is having some doubts in his own private life. When Wendy becomes exasperating at her lack of ability behind the wheel, Darwan for the most part is able to steady her. But there are rough moments.

Learning to drive becomes a metaphor for learning to live, and the beauty of the film lies in the ways in which the relationship evolves into benefits for both student and driver. The acting is sublime on the parts of both Clarkson and Kingsley. This is a enriching film that is likely to bring a smile to your face and fresh appreciation for what a good script, solid direction and top-drawer acting can accomplish. Reviewed October 5, 2014.


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