I think, after just shy of 300 reviews (the remainder in my total are essays), that the hardest thing to review is an item that is mediocre. It seems to require a balance that is as hard to handle in print as it is to watch on the screen—where to start, when to stop etc.
I put Driving Lessons on my Netflix list because of a recent Laura Linney kick. I had no real expectations since I didn’t read anything about it before putting it in my queue (I almost never do so I can go into it as unbiased and uninformed as possible). I had it sent due to Ms. Linney, but I got Rupert Grint, and Julie Walters as bonuses. Or so I thought.
The general story is that Laura Marshall (Ms. Linney) is a doyenne of the Anglican Church where her husband is the primary pastor. She has her sanctimonious finger in every pie the church has to offer and is extremely excited by a youth minister Peter (Oliver Milburn) because of his evangelical notions and ideas.
Against this backdrop is the son, Ben (Mr. Grint). He is 17 and too awkward for his age. Laura insists the Ben take a job to help assist a lodger she has take in; an odd man called Mr. Fincham. He does as he is told and answers an ad placed by an ancient actress Evie Walton (Ms. Walters). She is lively and angry and energetic all to an extreme. His job is as her escort and general man about the house. They develop a friendship whose boundaries get stretched past what Laura would approve of (not sex, just making Ben take her camping and insisting that he take her to a poetry reading in Edinburgh all without prior approval). In this short time, Ben grows up, or at least begins to realize that life isn’t exactly what he was led to believe.
Quite a lot of things, subtle and direct, occur that it would spoil the plot if I say any more.
Ultimately I didn’t care for the film, but because of Ms. Walters in particular, I cannot pan it outright. She is as spontaneous as Maude in Harold and Maude. The only real difference between this “romance” (and it is romantic in the wider sense) is that it is platonic. She is bombastic, direct, and not without a tinge of what can only be called hatred. Even still, her personality begins to shift down as Ben’s shifts up.
Mr. Grint was acceptable but his emotional range is so constipated that he just seems nervous throughout. I think this was the intent, especially when put into contrast to how he grows and what he does, but I wasn’t convinced the discomfort was intended or if it just what happened when the camera begin recording. For him this was a break from the Harry Potter movies (between Goblet and Phoenix). But this isn’t a breakout role. I think he does have talent but Driving Lessons would not be the breakout movie he needs to stop being Ron Weasley.
The disappointment was with Ms. Linney. I have never heard her do an accent before and I really hope she doesn’t try it (or at least a British accent) again. It sounded like listening to a good singer on a bad day singing almost every phrase a full step flat. Her character was also without depth. Anyone could have played this role. If Ms. Linney chose it, it was a very bad choice; if Auteur Jeremy Brock chose her, then the fault is his.
I was made extremely uncomfortable about the evangelism in the film. For one it was culturally out of place. For another it, like Ms. Linney was flat. It was used only when the plot needed it as a form of irony rather than truly integral to the story. Laura could have been involved in just one aspect of the church and the story would have been not only cleaner but would have made more sense.
I want to recommend it, but I can’t. The funny parts are not that funny and the sad parts are pathetic rather than truly emotional. If you like Julie Walters, then watch it. If you don’t know her work or don’t really care for it, there is no reason at all to see this film.
What did you think of this review?