Sunday, 31 December 2006

Driving Lessons (2006)

Driving LessonsOne wonders if we'd have any kind of British film industry at all if it weren't for Richard Curtiss. I don't think he had specific involvement with Driving Lessons, a film based for the most part on the real life relationship between Dame Peggy Ashcroft and a young man who answered a job ad to help her, but the whole thing reeks of the sort of film that would normally have Hugh Grant grinning inanely all the way through it.

The basic plot has potential but alas, what should have been an excellent, classy look at life lessons across the generation gap, turns into yet another old-fashioned 'quaint', too-ridiculous-to-be-in-any-way-believable, British movie-by-numbers.

Driving Lessons has the usual British stalwarts in minor roles, with Julie Walters and Rupert Grint ('the ginger one' from the Harry Potter movies), playing the two main leads who have to carry most of the film on their shoulders. They're both good actors but, disappointingly, Walters appears to have taken the 'eccentric old actress' cue from the script as an excuse to recycle her Mrs Overall character from Acorn Antiques, and something about it doesn't gel. The usually reliable Laura Linney has also been roped in for a minor role as the Grint character's hypocritical, Bible-bashing mother, presumably to try and put American bums on seats for the theatrical release, but it's a performance that Linney could have dialled in by phone - there's nothing here that we haven't seen her do many times before in previous films.

The story does have its moments, but just as you think it's going to transcend the Curtiss-like formula, bucket loads of sentimentality are thrown in drowning all attempts at any kind of subtlety. In one particularly ridiculous scene, a group of silent church goers react to Walter's character loudly bursting into Church somewhat the worse for drink as if the Lord himself had graced them with His presence and burst into song and cheering. This may be entertainment and fantasy for the blue rinse rom-com brigade who will applaud anything so long as it's safe and doesn't feature anything too unpleasant, but for the rest of us it's just nauseatingly poor scripting.

It's all such a shame, because there are moments, particularly when Walters plays her character less for laughs and more for sympathy, when the film shows real poignancy, but such moments are invariably shattered by moments of silliness that undo any attempts at believability.

Looking back (it is New Year's Eve after all!) on this year's best films I see a whole host of wonderful films from Europe that I've enjoyed this year. But I'm struggling to find a single British one. We've lost our way, seemingly determined to make the same formulaic stuck-in-the-past 'gentle social comedies' that we've been making non-stop ever since The Full Monty was a surprise American box office success. It's time to move on, and Driving Lessons is yet another weak example of a genre that is well past its 'Sell by' date.

Driving Lessons screencap

The picture transfer is excellent, as one would expect from a film that was only launched at the box office a few weeks ago. Extra's -wise there's a first-time director's commentary that's so dull and pointless I had to stop it less than half an hour in. It offers no insight at all, with the director repeatedly telling us what we're seeing on screen and explaining what it means as if we're five year old children who can't understand the very obvious images we're being shown. There's an embarrassingly bad Q&A session with the two main stars, embarrassing because the smarmy, gauche interviewer hasn't got a clue and appears to be auditioning for a part in a send-up of children's Saturday morning television, and the trailer for the film is also included.

If you liked Mrs Henderson Presents... or Love Actually, or any of those movies starting Hugh Grant over the last few years, then this is probably worth a rental. For the rest of us this should carry a warning: "Learner director ahead" and be avoided.

Driving Lessons screencap

1 comment:

driving lessons said...

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