Welcome to the first edition of Ghost in the Case where I hope to bring movies that you haven't heard of or have heard of but never bothered to watch. What better to start this bad boy off with than Driving Lessons.
"To wit, I leave you with this quote penned by my dear friend William Shakespeare...
'When the s**t hits the fan; get a tent.'"
Driving Lessons is a 2006 movie starring Rupert Grint, Julie Walters, and Laura Linney. Now Julie and Laura are both well established actresses but this was only the second project outside of Harry Potter that Rupert had been a part of. And let's be honest who thought that this
THE STORYBen Marshall (Rupert Grint) is a 17 year old boy who lives in a seemingly Christian home. Despite their outward appearance to the world, behind the walls of their home it is another story as his mother (Laura Linney) is an extremely overbearing woman with questionable practices all in the name of God. His father (Nicholas Farrell) is the priest at the local church but is a pushover when it comes to his wife. Things start to change for Ben after he fails his drivers test and begins taking driving lessons from his mom. His mother, who has let an elderly man live in their house after he ran over his wife with a car, asked Ben to get a summer job to help get the old man back on his feet. Thus Ben finds a housekeeping job for an older, eccentric but very broken, out of work actress, Evie Walton (Julie Walters.)
Ben helps clean around the house but it's not till Evie tricks him into taking her on a camping trip against his mother's wishes that the adventure really begins. Once they get to the campsite, Evie swallows the car key so that they couldn't return that night. Eventually they end up in Edinburgh, Scotland for a literary festival in which Evie is supposed to recite some poetry. Slowly Evie learns that Ben has given her happiness that she hasn't had in a long time and truly needs him, just as much as Ben needs her wisdom and shenanigans to come into himself as his own man away from his mother. The two become great friends and despite a bump in the road end up having each others backs in the end.
WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT?Julie Walters was brilliant casting for more than one reason. First off, I'm sure she provided a slight bit of comfort for Rupert Grint having worked with her before on Harry Potter as she played his mother, Molly Weasley in those films. But beyond that, her portrayal of this woman is amazingly hilarious. She gets into character and gives everything she's got with it. You truly love Evie by the end of the film and a large portion of this movie's likeability comes form her performance. Laura Linney also does an amazing job as the mother. She gets the subtleties of being this completely detestable woman while still being pleasant and believing that she is doing the right thing the whole time. It's a rather complex character that she plays expertly that you really despise her or at least wish that she was truly being as good as she believes she is. The pay off for her character at the end I won't spoil but it's just too ironic and great.
Beyond that it's just a story about life. It doesn't feel the need to make the mother into this villain or add complexities. It's just simply telling a story about this boy's life and times with this woman who becomes his best friend. The ending is very well written as even the father learns something from his experience and the world for this boy seems to be falling into the right place. It's certainly not the perfect place, but it's at least the right place for him at the time. Also you get to see plenty of beautiful images of the English and Scottish countryside.
WHAT'S BAD ABOUT IT?There are two things that stand out to me as "bad." I'm using quotations here because while these two things are certainly not good, they aren't awful enough to lessen my liking of the film. The first one being the second act. This movie follows the standard three act format of most films. The first act and final act are brilliantly written and wonderful but the second act is just sub-par. It's a very predictable scenario that we've seen hundreds of times with nothing really new added to this scenario. Not to give it away entirely, but a promise is made that you know good and well is not going to be carried out thus resulting in a lesson learned. It's not really THAT bad but it's just something I know I've seen in hundreds of movies and TV shows before.
The second thing is, unfortunately, Rupert Grint's performance. Now don't get me wrong, I generally love Rupert's acting especially in the final three Harry Potter films. However, this was filmed around the time of The Goblet of Fire, which I do have to say is Rupert at his most forgettable. Now when you start criticizing an actor on their performance especially a young actor you have to wonder if it is truly their fault, how the character was written, or how the director was telling them to do the part. Ben in this movie throughout is very awkward and most of the time is just sort of there. He does get several lines with emotion but for the most part he's just reacting to people by standing there like he doesn't know what's going on.... Look at this..
FINAL THOUGHTSAs I said before, the faults with this film aren't enough to take away form my enjoyment. They can be a bit distracting or eye-roll inducing but not enough to ruin the movie overall. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and even though I've seen many better, I've certainly seen a multitude worse. If you like coming of age stories then you should definitely like this. Even if you don't, it's worth a look just for Julie Walters' performance alone as she is a real treat.
Driving Lessons is available from Sony Pictures Classics and is rated PG-13.
This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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