“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love” is how the song goes. Oh, is love what we need. The news is littered with hate, violence, enough to make you feel that humanity has truly lost its sense of unity, of the ability to purely sit calmly and simply connect with another person.
Isabel Coixet’s Learning to Drive is the type of film that while somewhat forgettable, is undeniably warmly welcomed at a time like the present (it’s easy to see why it was runner up for the audience award at TIFF last year). It’s simply a tale of two disparate, unlikely souls connecting in a perfect moment in time, no more, no less. Their connection is purely by chance – one action would prevent them from ever crossing paths at all – but their time together is something that will never be forgotten.
The film recalls another that also stars the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson – 2009’s Cairo Time, a tale of a cross-cultural relationship that walks the boundary of romantic for a second, but that notion is quickly dashed, choosing to remain in the uncomplicated platonic phase.
The film starts off somewhat stilted, before settling into a nice, laidback momentum as simply a feelgood dramedy. The film is at its best when it does this, simply lets its guard down and be pleasurable and simple. It’s here that the two stars become a joy to watch. Clarkson is effortless here, funny and melancholic in all the right places as a somewhat neurotic (after all, it’s an American independent dramedy) person with a relatively small view of the world outside her stylish brownstone. The pairing of her with Ben Kingsley’s character, a driving instructor who is settling into an arranged marriage, is the type that’s been seen many times before – a white American gets a glimpse into another culture by chance, and their worldview is expanded as a result.
The film’s carried by the somewhat heavy-handed metaphor that the physical act of learning to drive doubles as a metaphorical message of Wendy and Darwan learning to take control of their lives. It’s rote, it’s been done many times before, that is something I can’t deny. But as I watch Clarkson and Kingsley walk next to the Hudson River in the sunset, blissfully unhurried, just enjoying a conversation, I can’t help but feel calmed by the warmth of Coixet’s film. It has a heart of gold, it’s one of the kindest, beautiful-minded films I’ve seen this year. It feels calm and beautifully in-tune with the needs of its characters, with nothing on its mind except peacefulness and conversation. And for that, I commend it. We need love, not just of the romantic type, right now, and it’s alive and well in Learning to Drive.