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Driving Miss Daisy

So evidently those Lifetime movies of the week are eligible for Oscars. That is the only explanation I could come up with for 1989ís best picture winner Driving Miss Daisy.

Jessica Tandy plays an elderly racist woman (but sheís Jewish so itís all good) who can no longer drive, so her son hires a guy to drive her around, but heís of African decent. Hilarity ensues. OK, not so much. Bad acting and hammed up writing ensues. The three main leads, Tandy, Dan Akroyd as her son, and Morgan Freeman as Hoke the driver, play their parts like southern stereotypes. If you played a drinking game that involved taking a drink every time someone utters some kind of trite southern saying you would be suffering by the end credits, and very thankful that the movie is only 100 minutes long.

And what could be more southern than racism. Now sure, Miss Daisy isnít wearing a white hood and calling her driver "boy" but she does refer to her black driver and cook as "those people" and claim they are prone to theft and are like children. Iím sure at the time this movie is set that was downright liberal, but today itís kind of disgusting. The fact that she openly protests that she is not racist and at one point even attends a speech by Martin Luther King takes away from the sympathy the audience might otherwise have with her character. A character showing racist tendencies, then showing up at a civil rights rally with no explanation of any personal transformation is just sloppy writing.

The main character, if you can call it that, is the developing relationship between Hoke and Daisy. She at first refuses to ride with him, claiming she is still capable of driving, despite backing the car into the bushes. By the end of the movie, she sees Hoke as her best friend. However, despite having a fully developed story of the relationship, the individual characters are not well developed at all. We only find out at the very end that Hoke had any kids, and even then it is mentioned in passing, almost as if the screenwriter got to the very end before realizing he hadnít included any personal information about his main character. The writer in this case was Alfred Uhry who based the screenplay on his own play. His only other contribution to culture was Mystic Pizza. I donít recall much character development in that one either. Look, I fully support defining a character more on interpersonal relationship than as an individual, but the character has to have some kind of individual identity.

But to reiterate my original point, the movie comes off as a sappy movie of the week. Two undefined characters experiencing changing times, and they themselves change. Throw in some southern aphorisms, and get a bucket to drain the sap. If you told me the writer was working off a checklist of concepts that test well in market research I wouldnít be surprised.

There are so many movies from 1989 that were better. You had three movies that were just plain fun, Major League, Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure, and Christmas Vacation. You also had Kenneth Branaghís first Shakespearean adaptation Henry V, which many still consider to be his best work, and Robertís Zwickís epic about the 54th Massachusetts, Glory. Oh, and Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, we canít forget that one. Two of the best picture nominees stand out above the rest, Dead Poets Society and Field of Dreams. Dead Poets Society is good, with a great performance from Robin Williams and an excellent script, but Field of Dreams is slightly better than that, and far better than Driving Miss Daisy. In fact, the only thing going against it may be that women may not entirely get it. You see, men use baseball as a way to connect with their fathers, and that is what this movie is all about. Besides, I know if building a baseball field meant I could play catch with my dad one more time, I would build that thing in a second.


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