Romantic comedies, as a rule, tend to get a bad rap. About half the time it’s deserved, as cliché follows cliché while subpar acting combines with flimsy plot development. (Doesn’t mean I don’t love them.) Learning to Drive, however, strays as far from this stereotype as possible while still falling under the rom-com umbrella.
In the romance lane, Patricia Richardson and Ben Kingsley deliver stellar, genuine performances while navigating the complex, low-key attraction that forms between them – her a recently-single author, him a Sikh cab driver with an impending arranged marriage. Travel in the comedy lane is slow-paced – the first laugh I and the audience experienced was around 30 minutes into the film – but rather than detract from the story, this enriched the experience. The depth of Indian culture in the film is profound. Kingsley’s character and interactions with Sarita Choudhury are compelling and awkward in equal measure.
I left the cinema uncertain how I felt. Running through my head were words like “maturity”, “rich”, “exceptional”, “genuine”. Yet at no point did I feel a part of the story; each scene is poignant and well-constructed, but retains an independence that asks you to watch, as opposed to inviting you in.