In ‘Learning to Drive’, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a self-absorbed New York book critic, is shocked to reality by the sudden end of her marriage. Always dependent on her husband for driving, she must now learn to take the wheel on her own. Her instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh Indian who watches with alarm as his pupil falls apart at the seams. He himself is contemplating an arranged marriage with a woman he has never met. As these two lives intersect, both will change in unpredictable ways.
- It was written and directed by women – That might explain why the female characters all seemed pretty balanced and complex and not awful stereotypes!
- The main characters are a Woman and a Sikh Indian – once again I’m watching a movie that had women and POC in main roles. It’s honestly one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this. Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley have both been in a number of films I have watched over the years, so the fact that they were in the main roles made it an easy sell.
- Wendy’s story arc with her marriage breakup is realistic – Wendy goes through a few different stages when having to deal with the fact that her life is going through such a massive change, and she doesn’t necessarily handle the break up and divorce in the best way. And that was something I liked! She didn’t just pick herself up and move on, she struggled through her denial, depression, and anger until finally come to accept the reality; this made it more believable, because I doubt many people would deal with the end of a 20 year relationship in a calm and rational manner.
- The aspect of Darwan’s religion is handled in a very respectful manner – the film shows aspects of Darwan’s faith throughout its duration, and never once seems judgemental in any way. There is also a scene where he talks about his religion to Wendy, who is not religious, and neither of them a preachy about their position or tries to change the other’s opinions on faith. It was nice to see a character where their faith was a big part of who they are but it didn’t define them or turn them into a stereotype.
- Darwan’s wife, Jasleen, is also portrayed relatively realistically – she’s not highly educated, or fluent in English, so when she comes over to America she struggles to adjust, which is completely understandable. It’s only once she meets other Indian ladies in the community who help her out that she starts to feel more comfortable and there is a noticeable change in her confidence and demeanour. This is a really good point about how important communities are in cities for immigrants, that a lot of people (read: racists) don’t seem to understand; it can be incredibly scary and isolating to be suddenly placed in a situation where you don’t know anyone or anything or the language very well, and that support structure can make a massive amount of difference in helping integration. These few scenes show this concept so simply, it is good writing to be able to portray this so easily.
- The vague slut-shaming throughout the film – While I understand that the lady Wendy’s Husband slept with may not have been entirely free from blame in this situation, I still felt uncomfortable about the comments made about her by Wendy and Wendy’s sister.
- The clichéd bad sex scene – Wendy gets set up with a guy by her sister and ends up taking him home for some entirely unremarkable sex. This scene was obviously put in for some laughs, but it was not really that funny and could have easily been left out so I didn’t have to think about how many ladies out there are putting up with bad sex because it’s what we’ve been told to do.
- The Wendy/Darwan love line – I know nothing came from it, but I still didn’t feel like it needed to be there. Why can’t men and women support each other and enjoy each other’s company without it ending up in romantic interest? That’s just perpetuating the stereotype that men and women can’t be just friends, which is absolute bullshit. I was so happy to see that Wendy and Darwan weren’t going to end up together, then they threw in a little unrequited love rubbish and ruined it.
I wanted to like this, I really did. I tried so hard. The main actors are people whose previous work I enjoyed, the storyline sounded interesting, the trailer looked good, it could have been great! But it wasn’t. In reality it was pretty boring. It felt like a generic soft focus glamour portrait of a film; no personality, no soul. It was as if they had a checklist of things that would get them nominated for awards and just went through and ticked them off, making it an entirely forgettable film even with all the positives I mentioned above. It had some really good points about racism and not avoiding things that scare you, but it’s not a film that made me think about it for longer than I had to.
I’m probably not the target market for this, but I also don’t think that should matter that much. This was an interesting story told in a predictable manner that makes me unwilling to watch it again. I would probably recommend it to my mum to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and she would probably also forget about it as soon as it’s over. It’s the embodiment of a soft 3 rating. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t good; entirely mediocre.