The runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, this adaptation of Katha Pollitt’s 2002 essay for The New Yorker tells a story about two people who must reconfigure their emotional language in order to embark upon their new lives. Wendy (Patricia Clarkson, October Gale, Cairo Time), a successful and self-obsessed book editor, comes home to her New York City brownstone one day to find her husband Ted (Jake Weber) leaving her — again. But this time it’s for good, and Wendy’s initial denial turns into grief, anger, and a determination to become self-sufficient — part of which involves finally learning to drive so that she can visit her daughter at college in Vermont. Although Wendy’s resolve wavers when she’s faced with the confusing jumble of an automobile dashboard, she finds a source of strength in her conscientious driving instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley, Hugo, Shutter Island). As Darwan guides Wendy through her automotive education, his seemingly infinite patience invites her to open up about her problems. In turn, Wendy’s volatile feelings about her changing marital status serve to highlight Darwan’s concerns about his own impending marriage, and the pair’s relationship soon begins to evolve in unexpected ways.
Reuniting with the two stars of her 2008 film Elegy, director Isabel Coixet allows these brilliant actors to move through a vast emotional range even as they remain confined to the front seat of an automobile. Observant and sweetly funny, Learning to Drive is a reminder that two people from very different backgrounds can achieve communication, understanding and intimacy even in the most unlikely situations.