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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Parents sometimes make "Lessons" difficult


The bane of a teenager's existence is an overbearing parent. That feeling of suffocation is heightened when the barrage of questions -- where, with whom, why and what time will you be home -- comes out of a parent's mouth.

Overbearing would be the nice way to describe Laura Marshall (Laura Linney) in the British film "Driving Lessons." To describe this mother, you'd need to add domineering, authoritarian and militant, as well as just plain bossy.

Laura has her son Ben (Rupert Grint) securely under her thumb. Ben's a quiet soul, interested in poetry and a girl from school. But he can't focus on those things. His mother has him on a tight schedule. He's always home for dinner with the family, he has to go to church with her, he's the eucalyptus tree in the church play and, per the movie title, he has driving lessons.

But she wants him to take on one more task: A summer job. Ben finds an ad in the newspaper for an assistant position with actress Evie Walton (Julie Walters). He also finds a bit of solace from her mother. Evie gives Ben a bit of freedom, she lets him express himself, takes him on trips he'd never go on before and he has experiences he wouldn't without being out in the world.

But as Laura realizes her grasp on her son is waning, she works to pull him back in

Writer/director Jeremy Block follows the usual coming-of-age storyline, where the child torn between being a child and becoming an adult eventually finds their way.

However, Ben finds himself really torn between two women, a mother and a mentor. Both work to keep him by their side while making an impression on him as a person. Ben can't be himself until he gets free of both of them though.

Both Linney and Walton give over the top performances, but Block's direction lets the audience have either one in moderation. There are only a few times when either are on screen at the same time fighting for attention.

Linney creates a mother that anyone would want to get out from under; a person can feel the pressure she puts forth. But her accent is troublesome as it switches from thick Brit to hints of her American heritage.

The "Harry Potter" series has the three lead characters stereotyped into their roles as Harry, Ron and Hermione. It's nice to see Grint not playing wizard and playing a normal teenage boy. His performance is a bit like playing Ron Weasley though. Ben is a bit bumbly and his shyness has him spitting out phrases with a slight growl, much like Grint's Hogwarts counterpart.

Without Grint playing Ben low-key, "Driving Lessons" would be completely lost. His scenes with either Linney or Walton are the best in the movie.

"Driving Lessons" tries to include funny scenes that just fall short or don't even make sense. A man who stays with the Marshalls after a traumatizing event starts dressing in Laura's clothing. She makes a point to tell Ben without giving him an reasons as to why. The man just does it.

This is a take it or leave it type of movie. "Driving Lessons" was primarily a pleasant watch, but there's nothing to make it stand out from the rest of films that deal with the same topic.


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