Dir/scr: Jeremy Bro=ck.
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
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.
Rubber Tree Plant Productions
International sales<=br>ContentFilm International
Edward R Pressman