Directed by Jeremy Brock. Starring Rupert Grint, Julie Walters, Laura Linney, Nicholas Farrell, Oliver Milburn, Jim Norton. (2006, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Tue., Nov. 7, 2006
The elements in this coming-of-age British dramedy about a shy, repressed teenager named Ben who takes a job as the personal assistant to an eccentric and older actress never emotionally cohere in the way that similar elements came together in that Seventies chestnut, Harold and Maude. While Driving Lessons has its moments, it never really develops a believable bond between its polar opposites, two lonely people who become the other’s best friend out of social necessity. Even the presence of the irrepressible Walters in the hammy role of Evie Walton, a shameless diva who gives and takes in equal measure, doesn’t make up for the film’s underdeveloped script, a middling narrative that rarely shifts out of first gear. Walters has demonstrated in past roles that she can enliven just about anything, but the old-lady swearing and drinking here seems so calculated for the easy laugh that it’s a bit depressing. (And is it my imagination, but is Walters looking more and more like she’s related to that other comic British treasure, Tracey Ullman?) In the role of Ben, Grint – best known as the freckled sidekick in the Harry Potter series – is somewhat limited in his performance, but his awkwardness is endearing. When Ben finally stands up to his smothering mother (a miscast Linney, who never masters her accent), you’re bound to root for him, even if the familial subplot involving evangelicalism and adultery seems strained to the point of being ridiculous. Writer-director Brock seems to want you to experience Ben’s liberation as life-changing, but the movie leaves you feeling a bit odd. Ultimately, you’re unsure of what you feel, particularly in the unsatisfying final meeting between Evie and Ben, which should have left you unable to swallow due to the lump in your throat. Because screenwriter-director Brock fails to create a moving relationship between its mentor and student in life’s lessons, the film hardly resonates five minutes after it’s over.