Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Friendship, eh? If there’s a thing that makes life tolerable, it is the company of others. And by company I mean tightly managed video-calls with children, grandchildren and – come the time of holograms – great-grandchildren. I shall be training Jacketta’s grand-daughter to call me up and claim I am the only hope for her rebel alliance. Assuming I live that long, of course. Yes, people, that’s the plan for my early 100s. Friendship.
Driving Miss Daisy is ultimately a story of the achingly slow build of a relationship from hostility, to employment, to the support and understanding of long-time buddydom. And the film deserves all its accolades for how it handles that build.
Old Jack watched it last week. For the first time. I know! So, forgive my still blushing love of the thing. It starts way back when in the deep South, as a grumpy old Jewish widow-lady crashes her car and gets banned from driving by her son. Jessica Tandy is Miss Daisy Werthan, Dan Aykroyd her bullish business man son Boolie. Weird names aside, theirs is a relationship I recognise from when old Mama Jack began to fall apart. There are some tough old chats to have, and in this case, Boolie elects to hire a driver to take Miss Daisy on her trips to the Piggly Wiggly (really; gotta love America…) …
Enter Hoke Colburn, a senior gentleman in an age of change. He has all the calm and patience needed to break down Miss Daisy’s hostile reception. She refuses to accept him; he pootles around the house and garden improving things. She refuses to get in the car; he drives alongside until her pride gives out. She bullies him under the speed limit and to go the route she’s always used; he quietly points out they’re there already. It’s a lovely battle from the off, and Morgan Freeman (here garnering my admiration for not playing Morgan Freeman) gives Hoke the air of a soft old mattress, ready and able to absorb all the spikiness Tandy has to give.
And the years slowly turn…
You get a sense of the outside world going about its revolution. Tandy’s Temple gets bombed and Hoke and Miss Daisy are caught in the traffic jam; race issues erupt and the pair potter onwards. The style of the direction, the persistence of the lovely old house, and the warmth between Tandy and Freeman make this damned near perfect. They are immune to the world in their comic bubble.
And here’s the thing: the film transmits hope to oldsters as their battle fades. Esther Rolle gives good maid as housekeeper, Idella, but dies in a flash of bouncing peas. Her exit is a tangible moment of growth for Miss Daisy and the persistent Hoke, another beat in the long story of his driving, buying the old car, driving her some more, bringing the two together. In return, in a gesture that validates them both, Miss Daisy teaches Hoke to read the papers he has mimicked interest in since the start. Sob!
If there’s a weakness in Driving Miss Daisy, it’s the make-up. Jessica Tandy seems barely touched, but Freeman looks bewigged from the off, and Aykroyd just ages weirdly. It’s distracting, but, who cares?
Yup – old Jack loved this film. It risks nothing and gets laughs from the quibbles between the stars. Jessica Tandy is brittle and risks the coldness that makes Peter Fonda so unsympathetic in On Golden Pond (1981), but she is so much more accessible. Her journey feels real. And when the film ends, in a scene I see most mornings in this old home, one friend helping another, you want their friendship to last forever. For in the final moments, old friends are equals, sod the society, backgrounds or social circles they come from.
Oh – and one last point – Hoke and Miss Daisy are already old when they meet. New friendships can come along at any time. Good lesson, that one.
Watch Driving Miss Daisy. It resonates with loveliness and humour, which means you need it.
AMERICAN, DECEMBER TO DECEMBER LOVE, DRAMA, HISTORICAL, OLD AGE MOVIES
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