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With Jim Sabatini

Driving Lessons

Driving Lessons
Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Julie Walters, Nicholas Farrell,
Jim Norton, Oliver Milburn and Tamsin Egerton

Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some thematic material
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: November 10, 2006 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

For a while there is a smooth ride to Jeremy Brock's Driving Lessons. Yet, by the end it begins to lose its way with its offbeat sensibilities.

Starring Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, and Julie Walters, Brock's coming-of-ager is set in North London.

Grint's Ben is an innocent 17-year-old, the son of a liberal reverend (Nicholas Farrell). Linney is Ben's pious, doting mother who is teaching him to drive with not so successful results at the outset.

Ben, having some trouble retaining what he needs to for success, in the main focus of Brock's somewhat discordant script, becomes employed to Dame Evie (Walters).

This is a different spin on Art School Confidential, as the colorfully candid Evie, starts to take him out of his rather secluded existence. An impromptu excursion to Edinburgh doesn't bring a smile to his mother who likes him to stay under her watch.

Undeniably, there is an engaging rapport between Grint and Walters, whose dialogue is really pungent, mostly in a humorous way. Brock has a handle on things throughout much of the early going, making the most out of credible, if absurd sequences.

Evie prods Ben to encroach the demarcated lines of obedience and conformity in his little subculture. The wonderful Walters allows breathing room for Grint in ways that bring out the self-discovery and independence with genuine emotion. Their interplay may remind some of a less adult Harold & Maude.

However, Linney, currently in the politcal satire Man of the Year, doesn't provide too much nuance to someone who needs to be controlling to a degree and look good in doing so. Farrell makes the most of a lesser role.

Countering the warm delicacy that works between Ben and Evie is the obstruction to the narrative flow leading to an awkward climax. Apparently, Brock felt the need to include characters like a flamboyant tenant (Jim Norton) and a coquettish curate (Oliver Milburn). The very pretty Tamsin Egerton (Keeping Mum) is also on hand for eye candy, if insignificant support.

Still, to see Grint outside of Hogwarts and in the presence of a quality veteran actress like Walters (Educating Rita, Billy Elliot) makes for some fine viewing even when Driving Lessons becomes more impaired than delightful.

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Driving Lessons       C+       C+

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