LEARNING TO DRIVE – Review by Susan Granger

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learning to drive posterIf you enjoy richly observed, cross-cultural character studies, this dramedy should appeal to you. When she’s is abruptly dumped by her longtime husband (Jake Weber) for a younger woman, starchy Manhattan literary critic Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) is bereft. After 21 years of marriage, she is forced to sell their book-filled Upper West Side brownstone and begin life anew in a small apartment. Read on…

Wendy’s basically alone for the first time, since her grown daughter, Tasha (Grace Gummer), has taken up farming Vermont. When her well-meaning suburbanite sister, Debbie (Samantha Bee), sets her up on a blind date, it turns out he’s into tantric sex, making their intimate encounter totally exhausting.

Determined to become more self-sufficient but scared of getting behind the wheel of a car, Wendy hesitantly decides to take driving lessons from dignified Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley), who gently but firmly refuses to allow her to quit, even when she’s terrified crossing the Queensboro Bridge.

“You can’t always trust people to behave properly,” Darwan cautions.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Wendy murmurs.

A devout, highly principled, Indian-American Sikh, Darwan is going through his own midlife crisis: an immigrant wearing a turban in post-9/11 New York is often harassed by taunting racists, yelling, “Osama!”

In addition, Darwan’s sister has arranged a marriage, dispatching Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a bride from a neighboring village in India, whom he meets for the first time when she arrives at the airport, carefully carrying her traditional wedding dress.

Amusingly adapted by Sarah Kernochan (“Impromptu,” “9½ Weeks”) from an autobiographical New Yorker essay by Katha Pollin and amiably directed by Isabel Coixet, it’s basically a metaphor-filled, sympathetically nuanced two-hander for Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, who previously co-starred in Coixet’s “Elegy” (2008).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Learning to Drive” is a delicate, sensitive 6 – teaching nuanced lessons about self-empowerment, reinvention and simply moving forward.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.