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Learning to Drive DVD Review

Learning to Drive (2015) movie poster Learning to Drive

Theatrical Release: August 21, 2015 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Isabel Coixet / Writers: Sarah Kernochan (screenplay); Katha Pollitt (article)

Cast: Patricia Clarkson (Wendy Shields), Ben Kingsley (Darwan Singh Tur), Jake Weber (Ted Shields), Sarita Choudhury (Jasleen), Grace Gummer (Tasha Shields), Avi Nash (Preet), Samantha Bee (Debbie), Matt Salinger (Peter), John Hodgman (Car Salesman), Michael Mantell (Wendy's Dad), Daniela Lavender (Mata), Gina Jarrin (Paige), Rajika Puri (Darwan's Sister Rasbir), Beau Baxter (Debbie's Husband)

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Learning to Drive opens with Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) being messily dumped in the back of a cab by Ted (Jake Weber), her husband of twenty-one years. Blindsided and hysterical,
Wendy is dropped off at her Manhattan house after Ted is driven to his new love interest's place. Thus begins a difficult new chapter in the life of Wendy, a respected book critic devoted to her work.

With her collegiate daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) about to spend the semester at the farm where she spent the last, Wendy decides to finally learn how to drive. Choosing an instructor is a no-brainer: Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley), the same cabbie who witnessed her marriage's painful dissolution, returns a parcel she left in his cab and she notices that he gives driving lessons during the day.

Darwan has his Master's degree, but has chosen to teach the seemingly menial art of driving so as to remain true to his identity as a Sikh. He keeps his beard, hides his long mane of hair in a turban, and endures the occasional racial taunt. He is a patient and prudent instructor, which is what Wendy needs, with all that is on her mind and a lifetime devoid of behind-the-wheel experience. Darwan is also a lifelong bachelor, something his nephew (Avi Nash), an illegal immigrant living with him, has been encouraging him to do something about.

In "Learning to Drive", freshly-divorced middle-aged book critic Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) learns to drive from an Indian Sikh emigre (Ben Kingsley).

Finally, he does, agreeing to an arranged marriage to Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a shy woman from his village with limited English skills he has never even seen, let alone met. This arrangement throws a hitch into the film's seemingly obvious destination. You haven't entirely ruled out the possibility of the mutually respectful driving student and teacher ending up together, as they seem to have a connection. But how can it be?

Learning to Drive is easy to admire as a rare new film made for and by adults. This indie dramedy-romance gives us not one but two fully-developed lead characters who are well into adulthood. Both are looking for some guidance in life and making do with the hands they've been dealt. Darwan was imprisoned for his beliefs in India and can never return, having become a US citizen through political asylum back in 2000. Wendy is conflicted with trying to salvage her marriage and accept fault while also preparing for an independent life she hasn't led in decades.

Learning to Drive is directed by a woman, written by another, and based on a New Yorker article penned by still another. There are too few female voices in Hollywood, a fact that gets noticed every year when it's rare to encounter a female Academy Award nominee outside the ten actress slots and we are reminded that the voting body is 76% male. The average age of an Academy member is 63, but that's not a demographic frequently courted by the business. In fact, it's downright rare to find a leading role go to an actress over 50 who isn't Meryl Streep or, sometimes, Helen Mirren.

Things are quite chilly between Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley) and Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), his new bride by arranged marriage.

Clarkson just turned 56 and Kingsley, 72. He's been pretty ubiquitous of late, claiming major roles in Martin Scorsese films, Iron Man 3, and other high-profile work. Clarkson hasn't enjoyed quite such prominence, though other women her age would kill for parts she's had in the Maze Runner movies, Easy A,
and Friends with Benefits. Both actors put in good work here, committing themselves and making it easy to forgive the more irritating qualities of the screenplay by Sarah Kernochan, who just turned 68 and picks up her first writing credit since 2000's What Lies Beneath. (Her past work includes Sommersby, steamy thriller 9 Weeks, and the coming-of-age '60s girls comedy All I Wanna Do, which also marked her narrative directing debut.)

Spanish director Isabel Coixet, who has been working in the English language for years and reteams with both Kingsley and Clarkson from her 2008 romance Elegy, brings a steady hand to the proceedings and keeps things mature without being bleak. The film has the feel of a romantic comedy, without the inanity that usually comes with the territory, even if laughs are not in great abundance.

The first all-English language film released by promising new distributor Broad Green Pictures, Learning to Drive was something of a minor hit in theaters late last summer, grossing $3.5 million from a max theater count of just 339 on decent but not exceptional reviews nearly a year after its 2014 Toronto International Film Festival premiere. (It went on to win "Buddy Picture of the Year" in AARP's 15th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards.) Despite that strong showing, the studio isn't bothering with a Blu-ray release, bringing Learning to just DVD and VOD on Tuesday along with smaller summer releases Samba and Eden that were unavailable for review.

Learning to Drive DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase


You certainly miss the extra detail and sharpness that Blu-ray provide, but Learning to Drive's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation isn't bad for standard definition. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is steady and fine, grabbing your attention most in the arranged wedding scene. A Spanish dub and subtitles are provided in addition to English SDH subtitles.

Isabel Coixet directs Ben Kingsley in this photo gallery image. The Learning to Drive DVD main menu couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to make.


In what feels like a throwback to 1998, the only real bonus feature found here is a viewer-navigated,
forever-looped photo gallery consisting of 31 publicity and behind-the-scenes stills.

The DVD opens with trailers for A Walk in the Woods, 99 Homes, I Smile Back, and Break Point. "Also from Broad Green Pictures" holds individually and collectively viewable trailers for Samba, Eden, 10,000 km, Song of Lahore, and the four movies advertised automatically at disc insertion.

Learning to Drive's own trailer is sadly not included here, one of a few things suggesting that the studio has a ways to go to catching up to the bigger brethren in the home entertainment game.

The scored, static menu simply adapts the cover art. Submenus are silent.

As no digital copy is included with purchase, no inserts accompany the plain gray disc in the uncut, unslipcovered black Eco-Box keepcase.

Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) and Darwin Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley) take a walk on a boardwalk in Queens in "Learning to Drive."


Learning to Drive offers a much too rare thoughtful look at the lives of adults who are no longer young. Strong performances by both Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley boost this character study. Broad Green's DVD release disappoints with its lack of a Blu-ray alternative and paucity of bonus features. Hopefully, the studio soon comes to show higher regard for the interesting films in their fast-growing catalogue.

Buy Learning to Drive on DVD at Amazon.com

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Reviewed January 17, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Broad Green Pictures, Core Pictures, Lavender Pictures, and 2016 Broad Green Pictures Home Entertainment.
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