Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

By Eric Jessen 7/27/09

Driving Miss Daisy is a pleasant surprise: a little cheesy, a little cliché but never descending into cheap melodrama and having the patience to share the quiet company of two wonderful people. Morgan Freeman as Hoke and Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy are an absolute treat: aging but still ticking, enjoying simple pleasures and living simple lives, forced to accept each other, eventually building a special relationship. They move, as does the movie, at a slow pace with a calm demeanor and showing only small bursts of emotion: Hoke's high pitched laughter and Daisy's stubborn snickering. We watch the monotonous moments of their day – gardening, driving to the store, having dinner – but adore their lovely chemistry. She's a wealthy, Jewish widower going on 90 years old, living alone with her long time housekeeper Idella (Esther Rolle). After she crashes her car one morning, her concerned son, Boolie, played fantastically by Dan Ackroyd, hires Hoke to be her chauffeur. Daisy hates the idea, so Boolie warns but assures Hoke, “My mother's a little high strung. Now the fact is you'd be working for me. She can say anything she likes but she can't fire you.” At first Daisy yips and yaps at Hoke, criticizing him then ignoring him and refusing to let him drive her around town. Then slowly she warms up to Hoke. And after the death of Idella, Daisy admits to Hoke, “you're my only friend.” Daisy and Hoke are dependent on each other. As their bond gradually forms they subtly change as people. Daisy is forced to accept Hoke's help, relying on him as a companion, giving Hoke the respect he deserves, and also relinquishing her stubborn independence.
We watch Driving Miss Daisy observing Hoke and Daisy's small but lovable gestures to each other. We see them smile and laugh, or sneer and roll their eyes (Morgan Freeman also does this weird mouth thing like he's constantly chewing food). The story progresses naturally, showing their lives decaying with age, occasionally dangling cliché and manipulative narrative elements but then ignoring them gently and resisting the urge to become overly melodramatic, focusing instead on the characters. One night, Hoke and Daisy drive to Alabama, stop aside the road, when two stereotypical red-neck, intolerant police officers question Hoke about his license. I was expecting Hoke to get beaten, or end up in jail, but instead the police let Hoke and Daisy drive away. Later that evening Hoke pulled over and walked off in the dark to go to the bathroom. Daisy, worried and alone, cried for Hoke, then he appeared asking “yes miss Daisy.” Another day at the cemetery, Hoke reveals he can't read. Daisy stared at him perplexed, rather than giving him a hug, she bluntly tries to teach him.
Driving Miss Daisy is a great novelty, a true work of courage in Hollywood. It is slow, methodical, and patient. Don't expect big laughs or tears, or explosions or drama, expect a simple pleasure.

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