BRIAN VINER reviews Learning To Drive

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    Learning To Drive (15)

    Verdict: Uneventful, gentle drama 

    Rating:

    This film, about a Sikh driving instructor (Ben Kingsley) and the highbrow, middle-aged woman (Patricia Clarkson) he takes as a pupil, never quite gets out of second gear.

    Which might be a clunky metaphor, but then that’s the whole point of the picture itself: learning to operate a car as a metaphor for discovering how to navigate the highways of life itself.

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    This film, about a Sikh driving instructor (Ben Kingsley) and the highbrow, middle-aged woman (Patricia Clarkson) he takes as a pupil, never quite gets out of second gear. Pictured, Kingsley and Clarkson

    This film, about a Sikh driving instructor (Ben Kingsley) and the highbrow, middle-aged woman (Patricia Clarkson) he takes as a pupil, never quite gets out of second gear. Pictured, Kingsley and Clarkson

    That makes it sound unbearably corny, and actually it’s not. It’s splendidly acted, nicely written (by Katha Pollitt), and sensitively directed (by Isabel Coixet).

    Kingsley is Darwan, a former university professor who fled religious persecution in India and was granted political asylum in the U.S., but is able only to find work as a driving instructor by day, and a cab driver at night.

    It is while driving his New York cab that he is witness to the break-up of a marriage, between Clarkson’s eminent literary critic, Wendy Shields, and her husband of 21 years, who are sitting in the back.

    Kingsley, pictured, is Darwan, a former university professor who fled religious persecution in India and was granted political asylum in the U.S., but is able only to find work as a driving instructor by day, and a cab driver at night

    Kingsley, pictured, is Darwan, a former university professor who fled religious persecution in India and was granted political asylum in the U.S., but is able only to find work as a driving instructor by day, and a cab driver at night

    Distracted and distraught, she leaves some papers in the car, which he returns the next day. A touching relationship evolves, at first entirely professional but gradually more personal, although without ever reaching the destination that seems mapped out.

    It’s a gentle, uneventful film with a fair amount of charm, and there’s a diverting footnote for anyone interested in celebrity offspring. Wendy’s daughter, Tasha, is played by Meryl Streep’s daughter, Grace Gummer. And the music is by Dhani Harrison, George’s boy.

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