More down-to-earth than Auntie Mame, Driving Lessons
imparts the same simple, but enduring messagebe yourself. In the directorial debut from screenwriter Jeremy Brock (Mrs. Brown
), 17-year-old Ben (Harry Potter
's Rupert Grint, sluggish yet sympathetic) lives with his vicar father, Robert (Nicholas Farrell), and pious mother, Laura (Laura Linney doing a passable, but inconsistent British accent), in a tree-shaded London suburb. Soft-spoken Ben writes poems and looks forward to passing his driver's test. When his mother encourages him to get a job, he becomes an assistant to retired actress Evie Walton (Billy Elliot'
s Julie Walters, hunched up to look elderly). He finds her overbearing at first. Still, Evie is preferable to Laura, who may do volunteer work with her husband's parishioners, including bizarre boarder Mr. Fincham (Jim Norton), but also cheats on him with Reverend Peter (Oliver Milburn) and engages her resentful son in the subterfuge. Then Evie tricks Ben into driving her to Edinburgh for a poetry reading, where he learns to assert himself and she learns to put the dramatics on holdat least for a few minutes. Ben also loses his virginity to a woman he just met, sending a secondary message some parents might not appreciate (the film's sprinklings of profanity earned it a PG-13). Driving Lessons
itself seems stranded between coming-of-age story and character study. Ironically, Farrell gives the most convincing performance as Ben's bird-loving father. Engaging if uneven, this parable about hypocrisy and self-expression might have been more interesting if presented from his perspective. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from Driving Lessons (click for larger image) Beyond Driving Lessons at Amazon.com
Oscar(r) nominee* Laura Linney (Kinsey) stars as Laura Marshall, an overzealous, evangelical Christian do-gooder who fills her home with down-and-out boarders, including a senile, cross-dressing murderous mute. Desperate to expand his horizons, Laura's shy teenage son Ben (Rupert Grint, of Harry Potter fame) lands a job tending to self-proclaimed "Dame" Evie Walton (Oscar(r) nominee** Julie Walters, Billy Elliot), an over-the-hill actress with the mouth of a drunken sailer and an insatiable lust for life. The battle for Ben's soul begins as Evie shanghais Ben away from his repressive roots and takes him on an adventure that transforms him from boy to man — almost over his raging mother's dead body! A winning entry at the 2006 Moscow International Film Festival, Driving Lessons is an experience Stephen Farber of Movieline calls "a delightful coming-of-age story."