When I was first learning to drive, I would grip the steering wheel with death-white hands, my arms completely stiff from the shoulder down. My father, sitting at my side, would attempt in a calm and soothing voice to ease my tension. No luck – I was terrified of driving. But, as it goes with anything, after some weeks of practice I became more comfortable and confident with the idea of driving a large machine that could kill not only me, but also many others around me.
The main character of “Driving Lessons,” 17-year-old Ben, played by Rupert Grint, is much worse at driving than I ever was. But Ben has bigger problems to worry about besides his scary lack of coordination or basic steering skills.
The movie opens with scenes of slightly cultish Christian youth group-type activities, involving singing and dancing in a circle. Ben participates in all of these by force of his Bible-preaching, holier-than-thou mother, played by Laura Linney. With a submissive priest as a father, it’s no wonder Ben has some problems socializing, especially with girls.
Ben takes up a summer job with old, washed-out actress Dame Evie, played by Julie Walters. Evie is eccentric, and wacky, much like everyone’s crazy great aunt. As expected, what starts out as an awkward and uncomfortable arrangement for Ben turns into a heartfelt bond between the two.
What ensues are adventures in cars with Ben and Evie, first-time sexual encounters between Ben and a 20-something-year-old, and of course the development of Ben from a shy, nervous and obedient little boy into a young man able to stand up for what he believes is right.
While attempting to overlook the fact that I love any man with a British accent, I sat down and chatted with the charming director of “Driving Lessons,” Jeremy Brock. The movie is loosely based on Brock’s own life; at one point he worked for Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
“I would say the movie is 50/50 based on my life. Ben is like how I was, very geeky and shy,” Brock said. “When you write, even if it is based on your life, you turn it into fiction. You remember your life how you want to remember it.”
It took six years, for “Driving Lessons” to happen – from idea to premiere.
“It (the process) was wonderful, the cheapest therapy I’ve ever had,” Brock said.
Brock raved about all his actors, saying that he could “not imagine not having this cast.” However, any director would probably say the same thing about their actors. Overall, “Driving Lessons” is cast quite well. Laura Linney pulls off the uptight, Bible-toting, priest’s wife with a little dirty secret decently well; at least her English accent is perfect.
Julie Walters plays her part well, as can be expected from such an experienced and praised actress. She tends to take over all her scenes, but that is being true to her character Evie, who herself is an actress who tends to be the center of attention.
Rupert Grint (Ben), has the most difficult part of the movie, not because he is the main character, but rather because he is still so heavily associated with Harry Potter. If Grint was hoping to distance himself from his Ron Weasley character, he failed. Ben is very much like Ron, shy and awkward, but with a tad bit more maturity. But, as Brock remarked, Grint’s performance is very natural, nothing is forced, and “he is the same kid on screen as he is in person.” Whether this is a good thing or bad is up to the audience, but I was hoping to see Grint’s acting skills expanded upon a little more than they were.
Overall, the movie is quaint and cute, with no special effects and barely any sets (most of the film was shot on the streets/locations in London). The cinematography is quite good, and appropriate for this type of movie, but it’s nothing special. What is expected is received in “Driving Lessons,” but with certain quirks thrown in. It’s a cute way to spend a rainy afternoon, but nothing close to an award-winner.
This article appeared in the November 2, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.