Yet another failure in the "quirky" British comedy vault. There are usually more winners than losers, but this was just foot fungus.
I was interested in seeing this mainly because I wanted to see how Rupert Grint fared in something other than Harry Potter. It wasn't worth it, but at least now I can say I've seen him in something else, even if that something else was terrible.
Rupert plays Ben, the 17 year-old son of a preacher and preachy mother (Laura Linney). For some reason, an older man moves into their house (he accidentally ran his wife over, and they're helping him cope...I think) and Ben's cold, religious mama decided that Ben should get a job so he can help support this man that has moved into their house. It's being a charitable Christian, I believe. It's total bulls**t, but oh well, he does it anyway. He goes to work for an older woman, Evie (Julie Walters, also in Harry Potter as Molly Weasley), a Dame with three ex-husbands and a past in acting. She wants Ben to escort her everywhere and go camping with her. He does. It's supposed to be funny, charming, and moving. I hate movies like this.
There are many things that I detest about this movie. Evie, for one, is a melodramatic, self-obsessed, manipulative woman with the by-the-book tragic past and drinking problem; a woman who has lessons to teach our young Ben (no, not driving lessons, just life lessons). She is one of the most irking and cliched characters I've come across in awhile. Julie Walters did a great job playing her, however, but that's not much of an accomplishment in a bad movie.
Ben is nothing special. He doesn't display much emotion, and when he finally does, it still feels muted. He's grown up in a religious household with a sociopathic, Stepford-type of mother, but it's not clear until later on that he's into God, too. Perhaps not to the extent of his mother, but it's definitely a factor in his life, which surprised me since there is a later point in the movie that paints him differently:
Evie manipulates Ben into driving her all the way to a different city (actually, I think they're in a different country: Scotland, but I was too bored to pay too close attention) because she has a speaking engagement. There we are greeted by a woman working at the hotel they're staying at who happens to be a big fan of Evie's. As she walks away, she looks back at Ben, and it's extremely obvious that he's going to have sex with her at some point. And they do, that night, in fact. He loses his virginity to her the day he meets her, and this after he has written and read aloud poetry to another girl (who is not impressed). Well, uh, you can see how much he cares for her. And then after waking up from his one night stand, he realizes that he's late for Evie's speaking engagement. Evie can't function if he's not with her, and he promised to be there. Of course he's late and she screws the whole thing up, that is how incapable this annoying grown woman is of reading a book out loud. Afterwards there's a spat in the car, Evie demands to be let out, they argue, and Ben gets all preachy on her, spouting God this and God that. Which is funny because he doesn't strike me as the religious sort. Ever. But he is. And yet I'm still trying to find his personality!
Rupert Grint, well, I don't hate him as an actor. I've always more-or-less liked him as Ron Weasley (not my favorite character, though), but he's never overly impressed me. And sadly he wasn't given much to go on here, or maybe he just isn't that talented in the first place. He wears one facial expression throughout the movie, and anything else seems insincere. I suppose the argument is that Ben is meant to be played this way, but if that's true, then the writers made a mistake with this characterization. Ben barely has a pulse.
Another flaw out of the many is that his father, a genuinely nice man as far as I can tell, is reduced to a background ornament for the majority of the film. We don't get to know him all that well, and the most we see of him is towards the end. That's too bad, because I would have liked to explore that character more, and I like Nicholas Farrell, the actor who plays him.
Laura Linney does a mostly decent job. I felt she embodied Laura, the mother, very well. My only real complaint is that her British accent was off. Sometimes she lost it. And I like Laura Linney, but I don't understand why they didn't simply hire a British actress to play this part. I'm sure there is an able British actress who could have done it just as well.
Bottom line: Driving Lessons is dull with one or two good moments, but it's mostly full of itself. It's predictable, unfunny, boring, and almost always charmless. It reminds me of "How To Be", in a way, only this is a little less pretentious and doesn't try to be as artsy. It does serenade you with indie music, however, which they always do in these "sentimental life lesson" movies. It's like road trip movies. They want to move you with indie music while solving their complicated lives on the road. Yes, I hate road trip movies, too.
My grade: D+