This small, slice of life drama could stand to lose about 15 minutes, but it’s pleasant, occasionally charming, and there are several scenes featuring leads Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson that are beyond exquisite.
The story is simple – an unpleasant writer (let’s face it, she is) is left by her husband for another woman, she reacts badly but decides to try to regain some of her independence by learning to drive from a well-educated Shikh who has political asylum in the United States but few prospects. Clarkson and Kingsley couldn’t be more different in most ways, but they are linked by their love of words and ideas.
Both have family complications and opportunities for personal growth served up with complications both predictable and less so. The film is reminiscent of Clarkson’s 2009 slice of life/drama/romance Cairo Time. If you liked that one, Learning to Drive may appeal to you as well.
One other notable element is how deftly Spanish director Isabel Coixet handles the multicultural elements, which drive the story in some appropriate ways and always feel organic and fresh rather than clichéd. That is a considerable plus for the film.