Harold and Maude is one of my favorite movies, so it's perhaps no surprise that I was keen to review Driving Lessons. The movies feature a similar trope—a younger man who learns to embrace life through the eccentric example of an older woman. Unfortunately, the subtlety and unpredictable quirkiness that made Harold and Maude a cult favorite largely eludes Driving Lessons as it moves from one ineffectual cliché to another.
Rupert Grint, better known as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, plays Ben, a bookish 17-year-old stuck in a suffocating household with his henpecked vicar father and hyperactive wife-of-the-vicar mother. The latter, played by Laura Linney, is one of the most unlikable characters I've come across in recent memory. Her supposed devotion to good deeds is nothing short of maniacal, and when she visits Ben in his bedroom to suggest that he get a summer job to be able to donate the money to those in need, she's more sinister than saintly. I got the shivers.
To please his mum, Ben gets a job as personal assistant for an old, eccentric actress, "Dame" Evie Walton (Julie Walters), and the opposite pole to his mother is introduced. Evie swears and steals and seems to be having a much more interesting go at life in general. But that's not to say all is well in Evie's world, and her unexpected vulnerability soon makes a devoted ally of her new assistant.
A sort of grudge match for Ben's soul ensues—the hypocritical mother on one side and the needy friend on the other side. Both women are liars in their own rite, with Ben in the middle trying to sort out the bits of truth.
As the title suggests, Ben is learning to drive. His formal lessons come from his mother, who demands punctuality above all ...1
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