An absolutely lovely little film built around two of the best actors alive, “Learning to Drive” steers clear of the obvious, instead taking a series of small turns toward minor revelations.

We meet Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) as she jumps into a New York City cab after her fleeing husband (Jake Weber), who has just dumped her at a restaurant. She flails at him, crying, in the back seat as the quiet Sikh cabdriver, Darwan (Ben Kingsley), watches in the rear-view mirror. Eventually, the husband flees again, leaving Darwan to drive Wendy home.

When his shift ends, Darwan realizes Wendy’s left a package in the back seat. Taking a break from his day job as a driving instructor, he returns the package to her, and though he won’t accept a reward, she accepts his card. A lifelong New Yorker who never learned to drive — her husband handled the wheel — Wendy realizes it’s time to learn. And so, eventually, she calls Darwan.

Thus begins Wendy’s stop-and-start road to independence. At the same time, Darwan is entering into an arranged marriage with a woman from India (Sarita Choudhury) who, it turns out, is overwhelmed by America and her sudden pairing with a stranger. While Wendy is learning to strike out on her own, Darwan is learning how to make a relationship work.

Directed by Isabel Coixet (who worked with Kingsley and Clarkson in the exquisite “Elegy”) and written by Sarah Kernochan (“Nine 1/2 Weeks,” “Sommersby”), “Learning to Drive” is precisely the sort of adult-themed, intelligent and heartfelt film it wants to be, with Clarkson and Kingsley wonderfully on point. Pyrotechnics be damned, this is fine filmmaking that dares not to be loud.

‘Learning to Drive’


Rated R for language and sexual content

Running time: 90 minutes

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