Patricia Clarkson’s Star Turn in “Learning to Drive”
By Skip Sheffield
Patricia Clarkson has the role of her lifetime as the lead character in “Learning to Drive.”
Clarkson has spent her career in supporting character roles in movies like “Friends With Benefits” and “Shutter Island.” Now she has her star turn as Wendy, a middle-aged New York intellectual (she reviews books) whose marriage is crumbling- nay doomed.
Is there anything sadder than telling a woman (or a man) you no longer love them? Patricia Clarkson beautifully captures that desolation, but this is more a romantic comedy than a tragedy, thanks to the always-brilliant Ben Kingsley. Kingsley plays a strictly observant Sikh driving instructor named Darwan. This role is like falling off a log for Kingsley, who is of Indian heritage. He nails the accent and mannerisms perfectly, but more important he stresses the dignity of a character who could easily have been a caricature.
While Wendy is losing her faithless husband to some younger chippie, Darwan is gaining a wife he never met through an arranged marriage. Grace Gummer plays Wendy’s prickly daughter, Tasha.
“Learning to Drive” is written by a woman: Sarah Kernochan (“9 and 1/2 Weeks,”” “What Lies Beneath”), and directed by a woman; Spanish director Isabel Coixet, but it is not down on men in general. It is a well-balanced, very adult romantic comedy with an upbeat final message that life goes on.