Driving Lessons


Driving Lessons

The Weasleys do some muggle slumming.

(Sony Classics) Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Julia Walters, Nicholas Farrell, Oliver Milburn, Michelle Duncan, Tamsin Eggerton. Directed by Jeremy Brock

Growing up is a painful, nasty business that is best left to professionals. Unfortunately, even amateurs like the rest of us have to figure it out eventually.

Ben Marshall (Grint) is a shy, bookish 17-year-old who is subject to the dictatorial whims of his evangelical Christian mother (Linney) who has her boy bring food to the elderly, participate in the church play and accept whatever charity case his mother brings to live with them, most recently a wild-eyed cross-dressing old man (Norton). She also has her eyes set on a handsome new pastor. His father, the henpecked reverend (Farrell) puts up with all of this with the patience of Job, but Ben’s veneer of British schoolboy civility is beginning to crack.

He is moved to write a poem for the object of his affections (Eggerton) but is met with only a scornful “you’re just too weird.” He also has begun to suspect that his driving lessons with his mother are a front for her to canoodle with the handsome New Age reverend she respects far more than her husband.

Ben responds to all of this by getting rather grumpy, but he winds up getting a job as a…well, I’m not really sure what. I guess a general assistant sort for a loopy actress named Evie Walton (Walters) who has bestowed upon herself the title of “Dame” and refers to her many Shakespearean roles. As Ben eventually discovers, her main claim to fame was as an actress on the equivalent of an evening soap and Dame Evie is perilously close to being dismissed as irrelevant or worse still, forgotten altogether.

Evie and Ben’s mother Laura are polar opposites; Evie high-spirited and anti-authoritarian, Laura rigid and positive that her parental authority stems directly from God. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there will be a clash between the two cultures extolled by these two very strong women and Ben’s heart – his very future – depends on which way he leans now.

Jeremy Brock, who has written some mighty fine screenplays in his day (including Mrs. Brown and The Last King of Scotland) makes his feature directing debut here and it is a solid one. There were some interesting casting decisions made; some worked wonderfully, others are a little questionable. Linney is a fine actress, but her accent is not one of her finest hours. Perhaps Brock might have been better served to allow her to keep her American accent and merely make her the Reverend Marshall’s American wife.

Putting Grint and Walters together on the other hand was inspired. Walters plays Grint’s mother in the Harry Potter series and it comes as no surprise that Grint’s best scenes are the ones he shares with her. Grint essentially plays Ron Weasley without the wand, so he does all right here but he lacks the energy I know he possesses (some of his Potter scenes bear this out). He needed a sure hand from his director I think, or at least a different direction.

Walters, on the other hand needed no such thing. This is the kind of role she excels in, the dotty English eccentric and she plays it to the hilt. It isn’t so much over-acting – which in a way is the hallmark of her character – as simply inhabiting a larger-than-life role. She’s what you’ll remember most about this movie.

Brock based this movie on his own experiences as the son of a vicar spending one summer working for Dame Peggy Ashcroft, and the movie does have an anecdotal feeling to it. The summer in which a young person grows from a child into an adult is a bittersweet season, and Brock captures that aspect of it here. While there are some missteps and things I know I would have done differently, that doesn’t take away from what is a solid, entertaining coming-of-age movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Walters is a much underrated actress who shines when she gets the opportunity to as she does here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is somewhat bland and could have used a little more color from Grint.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of foul language and some sexual situations, probably all right for mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Grint was 16 when this was filmed and under the legal age to drive in England, so all the scenes involving Grint at the wheel were filmed on private roads.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Tyson