I'm all for puns and catchy metaphors, but it has to be creative to actually work. One of the most important rules in screenwriting and filmmaking is to show the audience instead of telling them what's happening. Movie goers don't need to be educated they want to be entertained. Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival this year, Learning to Drive is an example of what doesn't work when a cliché screenplay over shadows decent acting performances.
In Learning To Drive, we follow a Sikh cab driver by the name of Darwan (Ben Kingsley) who is working two jobs to get by. He is a driving instructor by day and cab driver by night. All while looking after his nephew (Avi Nash) in Queens, a very expensive place to live. He is wise and weathered but optimistic and caring to those around him. This is a great trait for anyone to have in a friend or loved one. Kingsley plays this role well and really gives depth to a very shallow screenplay. It is during his night shift that he bumps into Wendy, a writer (Patricia Clarkson), and her scoundrel husband Ted (Jake Weber) while they are in a heated argument hailing a cab driven by, you guessed it, Darwan. This opening scene is dreadfully executed and serves as a horrific table setter for the film's style and tone for the rest of the film.
Learning To Drive lacks any sort of pulse if you will; it is strictly cardboard-esque. All dialogue and no emotion. The characters feel straight from a soap opera. To be fair, this film would work wonderfully as an episode of As The World Turns or All My Children, it has that kind of feel to it. Especially the opening scene and the numerous, long-winded monologues from Wendy about how she can't take it anymore then presumably sobs off into a corner until the next scene.
The film also uses its title to its advantage as a means to connect the two main characters. There is no creativity with how they come to meet. Instead, Wendy has a fear of life and divorce, which also somehow means she has conveniently never had to drive. There are also some under developed story lines regarding Kingsley's arranged marriage with Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) who is interesting but is given very little screen time and is more of a placeholder for the film.
* Golf clap, Golf clap *
With the undoubted talents of both Clarkson and Kingsley, one has to wonder how the hell they accepted these cliché roles. To make matters worse they accepted an even more pedestrian script with every stereotype possible sprinkled throughout.
Films like these benefit from a more organic approach rather than a forced idea or metaphor. It's the difference between a Rembrandt and its impostor. Learning to Drive loses the keys to success early on and can't recover. I would skip this film unless you enjoy cheesy romantic comedies.