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Dir/scr: Jeremy Bro=ck. UK. 200=6.95mins.

Funny and tender enough to compen=satefor its lightweight, conventional core, DrivingLessons, the first directorial feature from scriptwriter Jeremy Brock (=Mrs Brown, Charlotte Gray) is a likeable HaroldAnd Maude rerun that is given a commercial leg-up by the canny casting =ofthe three main roles. Harry Potter<=/i>regular Rupert Grint guarantees international y=outhkudos and Laura Linney covers the US angle R=11;but it is the no-holds-barred performance of Julie Walters as an eccentric,washed-up old British actress that really drives the film.

After its Tribeca debut, this coming-of-age-odd-couple hybrid n=etted fourprizes at the Moscow International Film Festival, including the audience aw=ard(it also opened Galway), and has sold in most major territories, with Sony =PicturesClassics nabbing US rights - presumably with more than half an eye on= Walters'strong leftfield Oscar potential.

Reclusive, tetchy re=tiredstage actress Evie Walton (Walters) hires 17-ye=ar-oldBen Marshall (Grint) as a home help and general= dogsbody. Her decadent, junk-strewn boudoir in the le=afybut creative London=suburb of Hampstead is an eye-opener for the teen, who<=/span>is used to the safe, neutral, desperately nice decor of his parents' =fauxhalf-timbered house in reliably staid Finchley.=

The Marshall household includes a weak-will=ed vicarfather (Nicholas Farrell), but its undisputed ruler is Ben's uptight,= humourless mother Laura (a deliciously nasty, faultle=ssly EnglishLaura Linney), who pursues Christian charity as= if itwere a business plan.

Ben is learning to d=rive, butthe title-metaphor hints at his need to steer a course between two strong w=omen:his bossy mother, with her Anglican fundamentalism, and Evie'smuch more attractive but equally brittle scandalous old lady act. Both of t=hesefemale mentors reveal their moral shortcomings in the course of the film as= Benlearns to make emotional emergency stops and reverse around romantic corner=s.

As conflicted, poetr=y-scribblingChristian teenager Ben, Grint leaps at the chan=ce to questionthe assumption that he has no career beyond playing Ron Weaselyin the Harry Potter franchise.It's an understated performance - there are few of the trademar=k Weasely grimaces here - which might seem flat w=ere itnot for its nice interplay with Walters' full-on, wine-fuelled dramaqueen.

Peppy but unchalleng=ing in Calendar Girls, Walters has been o=n holdsince at least Billy Elliot, bu=t hereshe wrests the crabby old British spinster monopoly out of the hands of Jud=i Dench and Maggie Smith.

Brock takes a risk w=ith tone,shifting gear continually from stand-up comedy and slapstick to pathos. The= reductio ad absurdum ending, cen=tringon a Christian youth group drama in which Ben plays a eucalyptus tree, chal=lengesaudience tolerance, but it's funny enough to get away with it.

Camerawork is more t=han adequatefor the genre; but the tech credits that really stand out here are producti=on designand music. Amanda McArthur goes to town on Evie'=ssuburban take on the Lady Of The Cameilas, whil=e folklegend John Renbourn and his young protege Clive Carroll provide a foot-jigging guitarsoundtrack that moves things along nicely, though there are times when itwallpapers over the on-screen drama too invasively.

Production company
Rubber Tree Plant Productions

International sales<=br>ContentFilm International
Executive producers
Robert Jones
Edward R Pressman
Alessandro Camon

Julia Chasman

David Katznelson

Production design
Amanda McArthur

Trevor Waite

Clive Carroll
John Renbourn

Main cast
Rupert Grint
Julie Walters
Laura Linney
Michelle Duncan
Nicholas Farrell
Jim Norton