Monkey Reviews

Through the Eyes of A Chimp

Monkey Reviews
April 21, 2008

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DRIVING LESSONS – Monkey behind the wheel

Growing up is, at the best, a rough and rocky passage but when you combine the themes “coming of age” and repressive evangelical religion you have turned up the heat that much more. These two components together, create an environment of tension and conflict; the separation and detachment that is developmentally appropriate at the age of 16 or 17 only becomes fodder for guilt and shame that takes a life time to wade through, given you’re lucky enough not to drown in familial murk.

Driving lessons is a great symbol; it is a rite of passage and a way to gain the independence that is both frightening and necessary and that’s what the intent of the movie, Driving Lessons seems to be. What comes through the film is the desperate attempt of 17 year old Ben to get some distance from his mother (played by Laura Linney) and her strident religion but because of his sheltered existence he is awkward in his attempt.

He falls for the typical route to becoming “a man”, teenage romance, which he fails abysmally at. Surprisingly what helps him make the break from childhood is taking on a summer job where he becomes a companion to a retired actress. Her love of life and curious engagement with reality is in stark contrast to his moody affect and his sense of disassociation from anything unfamiliar and his neurotic need to please his mother. Eventually through a series of events her infectious approach rubs off on him and vice versa. He steps out of the norm, dares to takes some risks and discovers a deep love for words and literature, she learns the lesson of give and take, of stepping out of her own world of drama and theatrics and realizing there is more to the universe then just her neediness. They both learn the valuable lesson of loyalty, not just to each other but to themselves and to their own sense of authenticity. By the end they are more than just employer/employee but two friends who relate out of mutual respect.

What made Driving Lessons work for me was the religious angle. It wasn’t merely a backdrop, a piece of passing information about the characters but it played a part in creating a believable tension. The movie didn’t just take advantage of religious sentiments; although there was good humour directed at conservative religion it wasn’t just a spoof or one-dimensional. You’re left with the question of how to become a deeper person which doesn’t rule God out, something many movies forget. The soundtrack really brings this home.

A good cautionary tale, not too heavy but not to lite – words from the not-so-wise when it comes to “letting go”.