Review: Learning to Drive

Patricia Clarkson in Learning to Drive

Learning to Drive stars Patricia Clarkson as Wendy, a NYC book critic whose marriage ends abruptly. She’s always depended on her husband (Jake Weber) to do the driving.

Wendy decides to learn to drive, a metaphor for her progress through her divorce to the freedom and independence she finds at the end.

Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in Learning to Drive

Her unlikely driving instructor is a Sikh named Darwan (Ben Kingsley). Darwan is something of a philosopher and guides his students in both the art of driving and the art of life.

Ben Kingsley and Sarita Choudhury in Learning to Drive

Just as Wendy is ending her marriage, Darwan marries Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a woman picked for him by his sister in India. Darwan doesn’t know how to be married. Wendy doesn’t know how to be unmarried. Together they work their way through their problems while navigating the streets of NYC. They form a bond which is almost love – certainly respect and affection.

Wendy’s goal is to drive to Vermont to visit her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) who is working on a farm there. Her progress through her driving lessons is rocky. Her progress through her divorce is rocky, too. There’s a very funny sexual encounter with a guy Wendy’s sister (Samantha Bee) fixes Wendy up with. The guy (Matt Salinger) is hilarious.

Meanwhile Darwan can’t figure out how to talk to or touch his new wife. For someone who teaches people how to navigate the streets of the city, he doesn’t have any idea how to help his wife navigate her new neighborhood. You know, in case there’s a need for tomatoes or feminine hygiene products.

Learning to Drive was female driven. Isabel Coixet directed. Sarah Kernochan wrote the film. Many women worked behind the scenes. I credit that female sensibility with making Learning to Drive a warm-hearted and loving look at how people help each other in unexpected ways.

Wendy survived her divorce and learned to thrive. That’s a situation many women in their 40s and 50s face. Coming through it takes strength and resilience. It makes Wendy a badass.

I used to think that a woman being a badass was something like the role Charlize Theron is going to play in Atomic Blonde. That film is directed by a man. A man’s vision of badass.

A woman’s vision of a badass is someone who survives being dumped by her husband of 21 years and finding a better way to live. Or Jasleen, sent to America to marry a man sight unseen and finding a way to make it work. That’s badass.

So here’s to all the badass women who have to find a way to drive their own lives when they are half way through living. Long may they prosper!

Did you see this 2014 film? What did you think of it?

1 thought on “Review: Learning to Drive”

  1. “Darwan doesn’t know how to be married. Wendy doesn’t know how to be unmarried. Together they work their way through their problems while navigating the streets of NYC.” This tells me all I need to know to be motivated to see this film! What a unique plot, and point of view!

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