Learning to Drive

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Learning to Drive Movie Poster Image
Empathetic drama treats mature themes with warmth.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Making other people happy in a relationship isn't always easy; it's much too easy to ignore their needs and focus on yourself. Themes also include identity crisis, marital discord, and cultural displacement.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Darwan is a kind, gentle man with a strict code of honor who must learn a bit more about himself in order to figure out how to make his new wife happy. Wendy also needs to learn more about who she's become to learn why her marriage fell apart. 

Violence

Two men rough up an immigrant, making racial slurs as they push him around and knock his turban to the ground.

Sex

One sex scene shows a couple in the throes of passion, moving vigorously and making plenty of noise, with the woman's breasts visible. A soon-to-be-divorced couple argues about their waning sex life. The woman later covers the same topic with her sister, including a somewhat graphic discussion about oral sex.

Language

Multiple uses of "s--t," "f--k," and "a--hole."

Consumerism

Several scenes feature Chevrolet cars, including one sequence in which a woman excitedly buys her first new car at a Chevy dealership. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A woman mopes around her home with many half-drunk bottles of wine on the counter, suggesting that she's been drinking alone, a lot. Adults also drink wine at meals. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Learning to Drive is a well-acted, beautifully written, and sensitively shot dramedy about finding yourself at a midlife crossroads you didn't expect. This story about finding your own way is most appropriate for older teens and adults, who will be better able to understand its mature themes of identity crisis, marital discord, cultural displacement, and more. Expect some swearing (mostly sparing use of "s--t" and "f--k"), a vigorous sex scene in which a woman's breasts are visible, a bit of graphic sex talk, a little violence (racists rough up an immigrant), and a subtle reference to drinking during a woman's darkest days.

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What's the story?

Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) finds herself bereft when her husband of 21 years leaves her for a younger woman. As a lifelong New Yorker, she never learned to drive -- and now she has no way to get around easily beyond the city's borders, which she wants to do, in part so she'll be able to visit her daughter, who will soon be living on a farm in Vermont. With some trepidation, Wedny takes on a new challenge: LEARNING TO DRIVE. In the process, she becomes friends with Darwan (Ben Kingsley), the Indian immigrant who serves as her instructor, and they both realize they can absorb important life lessons from each other. 

Is it any good?

What a delight when a film surprises you with its warmth, empathy, and deep understanding of the human condition -- especially when it's wrapped up in a seemingly trite premise. Such is the joy of Learning to Drive, which has not just one but two impressive leads in Clark and Kingsley, as well as great supporting actors like Mamie Gummer and Jake Weber. The whole cast offers viewers authentic performances, elevating an already pretty good movie close to greatness.

Learning to Drive also makes the most of New York City as its backdrop, though not in the same cliched ways many other films do. The borough of Queens comes alive; the arteries and highways seem nearly as essential as the subways. But it's the movie's exploration of starting over and its strong translation of the (obvious) metaphor inherent in the premise -- a woman learns to drive after the husband she has relied on to ferry her everywhere has left her -- that makes it so memorable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Learning to Drive's characters. Are they role models? Why or why not? What makes someone a role model? Do people have to be perfect in order for others to look up to them?

  • How does Wendy's failed marriage differ from Darwan's new relationship? Why is it so hard for him to figure out how to make his wife happy? What is the movie saying about relationships?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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