Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.
Release Date: December 13th, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Bruce Beresford Actors: Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd, Patti Lupone, Esther Rolle, Joann Havrilla
t may be simple but it’s brilliantly told, with frequent humor, realistic drama, and the invention of unforgettable screen characters (written by Alfred Uhry, based on his own play). Even though “Driving Miss Daisy” isn’t considered one of the better Best Picture Academy Award winners, the story is engrossing and the acting phenomenal, generating cinematic sincerity and power. As one of the greatest odd couple pairings, Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy bring supreme entertainment to a pleasant plot that isn’t as mushily sentimental as it is markedly poignant.
In the 1940s, respected and successful businessman Boolie Werthan (Dan Aykroyd) decides it’s time to arrange special transportation for his mother when she backs her car off the driveway and into the neighbor’s yard. Elderly Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) is an incredibly stubborn and proud Jewish woman who despises the idea of a driver and wants nothing to do with Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), the black chauffeur Boolie employs for the task. “I wouldn’t wanna be in your shoes if the sweet Lord come down and asked me himself,” warns no-nonsense maid Idella (Esther Rolle) to the new hire. Although Miss Daisy condemns prejudice, it’s clear that she harbors a few racist thoughts of her own, immediately demonstrating distrust at Hoke’s presence and contempt at his pleas to drive for her. As Hoke explains to Boolie, it only took her six days to get her to use a chauffeur – the same amount of time the Lord took to make the world.
As time passes, Hoke and Daisy’s friendship strengthens, allowing them to actually enjoy their time together. The world is also changing around them, and by the 1970s, issues with their social, ethnic, and economic differences have evolved considerably, presenting a striking backdrop for such disparate individuals. Despite their initial discrepancies and varying hardships (Hoke’s with equality, Daisy’s with waning health), the two discover an appreciation for each other’s company and a stirring bond that vastly transcends the standard employment origin of their relationship.
Miss Daisy is the backseat driver from hell; even before she gives in to Hoke’s insistence to make use of his position, she hollers at him for dusting light bulbs, caring for the garden, or even glancing at the photos in her home. It’s the discord in outlooks and the dissimilarities in personality that make watching the evolution of Daisy so interesting (especially as civil rights transform throughout the years). As the end of the film approaches, there’s also an uneasiness and anticipation that arise from expecting tragedy and hoping for comfort. Anyone unfamiliar with the source material will be tremendously satisfied by what is a largely unexpected conclusion.
The acting is nothing short of perfect, twinning sensational performances that were the best of both Tandy’s and Freeman’s careers at the time. Although Freeman would only receive an Academy Award nomination, Tandy would go on to win the Oscar (at the age of 81, she’s the oldest winner in the history of the category). While many accuse “Driving Miss Daisy” of having too elementary of a premise, the pacing and design impart an astoundingly effective and affective result, complemented by intelligent humor, rousing music by Hans Zimmer (a score that immediately denotes monumental moviemaking), noteworthy supporting performances, and a dose of undeniably moving, reciprocal humanity.
– Mike Massie