|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
2006 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
Jeremy Brock made his feature screenwriting debut with
MRS. BROWN, a film that earned Judi Dench an Academy Award
nomination. He followed that up with CHARLOTTE GRAY, and although
that film was not as well received critically, it did provide a strong
vehicle for star Cate Blanchett. For his feature directorial debut,
DRIVING LESSONS, Brock once again has created a strong leading
role for an amazing actress -- this time Julie Walters.
Loosely inspired by events in his own life -- Brock once worked
for the eccentric actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft -- DRIVING LESSONS
centers on Ben (Rupert Grint), a 17-year old struggling with his strict
religious upbringing, his ties to his overbearing mother (Laura Linney)
and his burgeoning interest in the opposite sex. The film opens with
him failing a driving test and his mother's insistence on teaching him.
Those lessons really consist of him chauffeuring her to trysts with her
Encouraged by his mother to get a job -- partly so he could give
some of his earnings to an unfortunate old man (Jim Norton) she
has "adopted." Ben searches through the parish magazine and discovers
an advertisement placed by a local actress. When he arrives at the home
of Dame Eve Walton (Walters) or Evie, he discovers she is a handful.
Vain, vulgar and vivacious, Evie challenges everything in Ben's staid
life. She drags him on an adventure that leads to a camping trip and
a sojourn to Edinburgh where she is to participate in a literary festival.
Evie comes to have a profound influence on Ben.
The film is anchored by Walter's brilliant performance. She has a field
day with this rambunctious, pampered yet terribly insecure woman. Grint
is often reduced to playing straight man, but his reactions are priceless
and the fact that he and Walters have previously worked together as
mother and son in the Harry Potter films bolsters their chemistry.
Linney is fine as Laura, Ben's uptight mother, and Farrell has some terrific
moments as well, particularly in one rather sweet father-son scene.
I did have some problems with Brock's screenplay and his staging of
the film's climax was somewhat inelegant. Still, DRIVING LESSONS,
which reminded me somewhat of the similarly themed 2005 movie
MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT, offers Walters at the top of
her game and demonstrates that Grint easily will transit to more adult
Rating: B -