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DRIVING MISS DAISY(director: Bruce Beresford; screenwriters: Alfred Uhry/based on his play; cinematographer: Peter James; editor: Mark Warner; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Morgan Freeman (Hoke Colburn), Jessica Tandy (Miss Daisy Werthan), Dan Aykroyd (Boolie Werthan), Patti LuPone (Florine Werthan), Esther Rolle (Idella); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Richard D. Zanuck/Lili Fini Zanuck; Warner Brothers; 1989)
“It’s a bland but decent film that I liked without loving it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Adapted from Atlanta-based Alfred Uhry’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play, that was loosely based on his own grandmother; Mr. Uhry also provides the screenplay for the refreshingly sentimental old-fashioned bittersweet drama. The play was still running off-Broadway when the film was released. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Tandy) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alfred Uhry). It’s set between 1948 and 1973, and traces through the unlikely 25 year relationship between a wealthy, elderly cranky ex-school teacher Jewish widow from Atlanta, Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), and her amiable, tactful and wily, almost the same aged, widower black chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman, re-creating the same Obie winning role he had in the original Broadway play), who knows how to masterfully play the subservient role in the master-slave relationship by using humor to counterbalance his boss’s bigotry and chilly reprimands; their slow changing relationships that begins in frostiness and ends in friendship, covers the changing racial climate in the south (featuring the bombing of the synagogue in 1958, the civil rights movement and the 1965 hotel reception in honor of Martin Luther King) as running parallel to their changing relationship.

Australian New Wave director Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”/”Tender Mercies”/”Don’s Party”) does a fine job making this three-character play open up to be almost cinematic (no director could make it completely cinematic) and he gets superb performances from the ensemble cast, especially from Tandy and Freeman, and the most he could get out of this slight story, one that is more interested in making small social observations than in coming up with anything daring to say with a bite. The modest budgeted film was surprisingly a big box office success, showing it had universal appeal.

In 1948, the 72-year-old Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) crashes her new Packard in her driveway into a flower bed and through a retaining wall into her neighbor’s yard. Her concerned married factory owner son, Boolie Werthan (Dan Aykroyd), reasons she no longer is able to drive herself and over her objections hires the gentle sixtyish Hoke (Morgan Freeman) to be her chauffeur. After a bumpy start, we follow them driving around a gentile and tolerant Atlanta until she’s 90, and through their eyes we see how the south is changing.

The play transformed into an earnest high-minded Hollywood film smacks of liberal sensibilities and never goes past self-congratulating itself on being so tolerant (Miss Daisy grows out of her inborn prejudices over time), perhaps, targeting its liberal audience as those best able to appreciate what it’s all about. No one in the cast is Jewish, though this doesn’t stop acclaimed theater actress Tandy from giving her finest ever film performance, but nevertheless she never seems Jewish. Freeman is the soul of the film and the only real southerner cast, who is a joy to watch as he uses his wits to great advantage. Aykroyd gives a subtle performance of merit as a captive of his time, who keeps his liberal instincts in check so as not to antagonize any potential enemy. The film added two additional characters who weren’t in the play: singer Patti LuPone has a straight undemanding dramatic part as Aykroyd’s vulgar social-climbing wife and Esther Rolle is the black housekeeper, who makes the most of her turn at comic relief. It’s a bland but decent film that I liked without loving it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”