Saturday movie review: Learning to Drive

LEARNING TO DRIVE is a chick flick. Literally. The touching dramatic comedy was written by a woman (Sarah Kernochan), directed by a woman (Isabel Coixet), produced by women (executive producer Eleni Asvesta and producer Dana Friedman), and stars always intriguing Patricia Clarkson in a story primarily about a woman.

LEARNING TO DRIVE also stars a few men, Ben Kingsley most prominently. Which factors into the film resonating with men as well as women. Yet Kingsley's presence isn't the only reason men might enjoy the insightful movie made primarily by women. That can be attributed most fully to the engaging, uplifting story of a broken marriage, a new marriage, and an unexpected friendship forged.

learning to drive movie

The film opens with Wendy (Clarkson) and her husband of twenty-one years, Ted (Jake Weber), in the back of a taxi driven by Sikh driver Darwan (Kingsley). Ted tells Wendy he's leaving her; Wendy loses her mind — and tact and temper — at the unexpected, heartbreaking news; Darwan quietly observes through his rear view mirror the dissolution of a marriage taking place in his backseat.

Ted quickly exits, and Darwan delivers the distraught Wendy to her home. Amidst her crying and confusion, Wendy notices Darwan offers driving lessons on the side and — having never learned to drive as Ted was the family driver — she asks Darwan for a business card.

From there, the friendship between Wendy and Darwan develops. The bond grows with each lesson as each helps educate the other on life lessons that go far beyond the basics of making one's way behind the steering wheel: Wendy tackles how to live solo post broken marriage, Darwan how to live as a proper husband to a woman he met the day before his recent arranged marriage.


The story may be predictable in some ways, but the fine acting by Clarkson and Kingsley eases the groans of knowing how things will likely turn out. Clarkson's portrayal of despair at the unimaginable and her subsequent realization that it took two to put out the marital fire was painful to watch. Perhaps because of the possibility that such things can happen in any longterm marriage, including my own. I found Kingsley's Ted's gentle and sincere dedication to his task as instructor endearing, his ignorance on how to treat his new wife, Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), unnerving.

The subplot of the treatment of Sikhs (and other foreigners) was especially insightful considering our current immigration issues and concerns of this election season. And frustrating to me as I have American-born Pakistani nephews — brilliant, educated, productive, responsible young men — and the treatment of Darwan and his friends and family in the film is something those amazing nephews of mine likely face regularly.

I typically like Jake Weber, ever since enjoying him in Medium (with Patricia Arquette) on television years ago. It's a testament to his acting skill that I really did not like him in LEARNING TO DRIVE. His cold and unfaithful Ted irked me, actually made me call him a few choice names a time or two while watching him tear apart Wendy's world.

I always like Mamie Gummer, though, and here, as Wendy and Ted's adult daughter, did once again. I never get over my amazement at how much she looks and acts like her real-life mother, Meryl Streep, and continually cheer her choice of roles and pitch-perfect performances. She's a rising star in spite of the struggle it must be to create her own career, make it on her own merits, when Meryl is her mama.

More on the commendable female factor driving LEARNING TO DRIVE:


LEARNING TO DRIVE (rated R for "language and sexual content") debuted at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and arrived in U.S. theaters in 2015. It has earned several nominations, winning the Best Feature Audience Award at the 2015 Provincetown International Film Festival. The film is now available on DVD as well as several video-on-demand services. Find out more — and view some pretty great featurettes — at