In Theaters: Friday 13th October 2006
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 39
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Jeremy Brock
Producer: Julia Chasman
Screenwriter: Jeremy Brock
Starring: Laura Linney as Laura Marshall, Rupert Grint as Ben Marshall, Julie Walters as Evie Walton, Michelle Duncan as Bryony, Oliver Milburn as Peter, Tamsin Egerton as Sarah, Nicholas Farrell as Robert, Jim Norton as Mr. Fincham
Ben Marshall (Grint) has been born into a house of piety. His father (Nicholas Farrell) is an English vicar and his mother (Laura Linney, of all people) preaches and speaks The Word with more holier-than-thou sentiment than her husband ever even considered. Ben's father is aloof to the fact that his wife is also being "visited" by a younger priest that works at his church. These things could be the explanation behind Ben's peculiar behavior with girls and other schoolmates, but his mother insists it's that he isn't doing enough in the community. To rectify this, Ben is somewhat forced into weed-pulling servitude to Evie Walton (Julie Walters), a washed-up theater actress who speaks with brash wit and blunt obviousness. As expected, what first starts out as awkward employer/employee relations turns into warm friendship and blossoms when Ben accompanies her to a small reading in Edinburgh, where Ben drops his V-card and, in theory, learns what life is really about.
Brock's assumedly autobiographical (his father was a priest) exercise in coming-of-age dynamics has little or nothing up its sleeve. The script often just strolls around subjects that could cause it to strike out from its uniformed brethren. For instance, the father's denial of his wife's infidelity becomes a rather light matter of inconvenience and leads to the father becoming peripheral to the story. The dialogue, lacking even the faintest odor of wit, saddles the actors with barbs and responses so droll that one isn't really allowed to hate it or love it. It's stuck being uninteresting and plodding. Even worse is the constantly overbearing soundtrack that pumps clips of Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake at every moment possible, rarely allowing for image or atmosphere to speak for the film.
The actors, especially Grint and Walters, work hard to turn the characters into something more than caricatures. In Edinburgh, when Ben meets up with a girl and finds himself entangled in her sheets, Grint handles the nervousness of the situation with stellar provocation. Walters sucks up scenes like a Hoover hooked up to the main General Electric line. Her somewhat over-the-top performance sticks out but this could be blamed on the fact that nothing else really sticks out. Linney does her normal soft-spoken hard-ass thing (with an English accent) and Farrell just sticks to the ol' solemnity routine. Regardless, Driving Lessons registers mostly as a castrated Harold and Maude and never attempts to reach for anything besides coming-of-age sappiness. Grint might have talent in him, but with this film, he might as well be casting spells.
Someone's been drinking her milk.