Learning to Drive

Learning to Drive

Posted on September 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, car accident
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 4, 2015
Copyright 2015 Broad Green Pictures
Copyright 2015 Broad Green Pictures

Katha Pollitt’s wry but bordering on scathing essay about taking her first driving lessons in her 50’s, after her partner of seven years left her for another woman has been turned into a softened but still trenchant film. Patricia Clarkson plays Wendy, a less ethnic and more friendly-sounding name than Katha, and perhaps a reference to the “Peter Pan” character who had an adventure and then returned home to grow up.

Wendy is a New York intellectual who writes book reviews and appears on NPR. We first see her devastated and furious because her husband, Ted (Jake Weber), has taken her to dinner so that he can tell her in a public place that he is leaving her for another woman after 21 years of marriage. Their cab driver, a turbaned Sikh named Darwan (Sir Ben Kingsley) pretends not to hear as he takes them home, or rather takes Wendy home. Ted is not going back there anymore. When she realizes that a divorce will mean they have to sell their home, it is as painful for her as the end of the marriage. “It’s like asking me to move out of me.”

Later, Darwan realizes that Wendy has left an envelope in his cab. He returns it to her, and when she sees that he has a second job as a driving instructor, she impulsively hires him to teach her to drive. She has never had to learn; she lives in Manhattan and her husband drives. But their daughter (Grace Gummer) is living on a farm, and if Wendy wants to visit her, she will have to get a driver’s license and a car.

At first, Wendy assumes that Ted will come back. But, as Darwan tells her, she has to learn to be more attentive to what is going on around her. “Teach yourself to see everything.” He also cautions her to be mistrustful of other drivers. She begins to realize that this applies to her life as well as to driving. Meanwhile, Darwan struggles with his nephew, illegally in the US and living with him, and with his sister, back in India, who is trying to arrange a marriage for him. As Wendy’s marriage is dissolving, Darwan is agreeing to marry someone he has never met, Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury).

Beautiful performances by everyone, especially Clarkson and Choudhury, give this story a luminous glow and touches throughout remind us that this is a story told by women. Director Isabel Coixet (do not miss her exquisite “My Life Without Me”) and screenwriter Sarah Kernochan are wise about the connections women make with one another and how they talk about the men in their lives. That applies to Jasleen as well as Wendy. This is more than a story of a woman learning to pay attention and to “taste” a parking space; it is a story of Darwan and Jasleen as well, who have their own challenges of seeing and tasting.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references and explicit conversations, and brief nudity.

Family discussion: What did Wendy learn about “tasting” and paying attention that helped her beyond the driving lessons? Why did she tell her daughter to go back to the farm? What will happen with Darwan and Jasleen?

If you like this, try: “An Unmarried Woman,” “84 Charing Cross Road,” and “Happy-Go-Lucky”

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Based on a true story Comedy Drama Movies -- format Romance

FREE Tickets to an August 31, 2015 Screening of “Learning to Drive”

Posted on August 24, 2015 at 2:14 pm

I am delighted to have some free passes to give away to a Washington DC, August 31, 2015 screening of “Learning to Drive“! It’s first come-first-served and tickets will go fast. To get your passes, click here.

NOTE: Get there early. They give away more tickets than there are seats due to projected no-shows, so be there with plenty of time to make sure you get a seat.

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Trailer: Learning to Drive

Trailer: Learning to Drive

Posted on July 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Writer Katha Pollitt found herself learning how to drive for the first time when she was 52.  She wrote about it ruefully in an essay that provides the title for Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories, which has now inspired a movie starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson.

Here is a brief excerpt from the essay, which she discussed on NPR.

“Observation, Kahta, observation! This is your weakness.” This truth hangs in the air like mystical advice from an Asian sage in a martial-arts movie. “That, and lining up too far away when you go to park.”

The clock on the dashboard reads 7:47. We will role-play the test repeatedly during my two-hour lesson. I will fail every time.

Observation is my weakness. I did not realize that my mother was a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer, that the drab colleague he insinuated into our social life was his long-standing secret girlfriend, or that the young art critic he mocked as silly and second-rate was being groomed as my replacement. I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace, with books and papers collecting dust on every surface and kitty litter crunching underfoot. I observed-very good, Katha!-that I was spending many hours in my study, engaged in arcane e-mail debates with strangers, that I had gained twenty-five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink-and-black-striped bikini panties in the clean-clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simple laundry room mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could not be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway.

I am a fifty-two-year-old woman who has yet to get a driver’s license. I’m not the only older woman who can’t legally drive — Ben recently had a sixty-five-year-old student who took the test four times before she passed — but perhaps I am the only fifty-two-year-old feminist writer in this situation. How did this happen to me?

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Exclusive Featurette: Last Weekend

Posted on September 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Patricia Clarkson plays a sometimes-outrageous and insensitive mother of adult children in “Last Weekend,” written and co-directed by Tom Dolby.  I’m delighted to be able to share an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse.

Here’s the trailer.

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Five New Films About Breast Cancer Premiere Oct 10 on Lifetime

Posted on October 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Every life has been touched by breast cancer.

  • About 1 in 8 women in the United States (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • Although death rates have been decreasing since 1990 due to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment, about 39,840 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2010 from breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women after skin cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer.
  • More than 1 in 4 cancers in women (about 28%) are breast cancer.
  • In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

The Lifetime Channel pays tribute to those who face the challenges of breast cancer treatment with “Five,” an anthology of five short films made by women, exploring the impact of breast cancer on people’s lives. “Five” highlights the shared experience each short film’s title character endures from the moment of diagnosis, through an interconnected story arc that uses humor and drama to focus on the effect breast cancer and its different stages of diagnosis have on relationships and the way women perceive themselves while searching for strength, comfort, medical breakthroughs and, ultimately, a cure.   The five directors are Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Demi Moore, Independent Spirit Award winner Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and Penelope Spheeris (“Wayne’s World”).

The all-star ensemble cast includes Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April”), Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”), Lyndsy Fonseca (“How I Met Your Mother”), Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”), Josh Holloway (“Lost”), Taylor Kinney (“The Vampire Diaries”), Jenifer Lewis (“The Princess and the Frog”), Jennifer Morrison (“House M.D.”), Kathy Najimy (“WALL-E”), Golden Globe Award winner Bob Newhart (“Horrible Bosses”), Annie Potts (“Law & Order: SVU”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Girlfriends”), Emmy and Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”), and Emmy nominees Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) and Jeanne Tripplehorn (“Big Love”).

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