Friday, January 9, 2015

Driving Miss Daisy (Best Picture 1989)

From the very first scene of Driving Miss Daisy we know we are in for something amusing. Daisy Werthan, an independent and somewhat unpleasant widow, attempts to drive herself to the store. However, she backs her car into the neighbor's yard instead, blaming the car.

From that moment her son, Boolie, insists she can not drive herself. He demands that she get a driver. She resists, not only because of the indignity of dealing with a person she feels has been thrust upon her, but also because she doesn't want to admit that she has begun to lose her own independence.
A few scenes later we meet Hoke Colburn. He seems like a nice, reliable man whose previous job was driving for a friend of the Werthans. Boolie likes him, and hires him. He introduces Hoke to the household, and the most important point is that because he is paid by Boolie, no matter how much Miss Daisy complains she can't fire him. He tries to make himself useful around the house, such as by suggesting planting a vegetable garden, but she refuses to deal with him. Mostly he is stuck trying to stay out of Miss Daisy's way, and not interfering with her maid, Idella.

Finally, Miss Daisy begins to run out of food and *must* go to the store. She insists on walking, but Hoke insists on driving to town right beside her, shadowing her. Mortified that others may see them, she gives in. When he drives her to Temple soon after, she thinks people are talking about her "putting on airs." A few nights later she realizes that Hoke took a can of salmon without asking. Going on about how "they're all thieves!" she demands that Boolie fire Hoke. However, before Boolie can lay the ax down, Hoke gives Miss Daisy an extra can of salmon, admitting that he had eaten one the night before because the left-overs she had designated for him were not to his liking. Faced with an easy-going, serious, honest man, Miss Daisy gives up and accepts him as her driver.
The rest of the film is various scenes of these two fine actors, Jessica Tandy as Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Hoke, getting to know each other. Three years later when they are at the cemetery she realizes that Hoke can't read; she used to be a school teacher, so she begins to teach him. A few years later they take a trip from Atlanta to Alabama to visit her older brother. They are stopped by Alabama traffic police, who are not too happy to see them. They are dismissed as "an old Jew and a nigger." When she reads the map incorrectly and they fall behind schedule, she blames him. However, when he has to relieve himself he has no choice but to pull over and urinate by the side of the road, as no service stations on their route will allow a black man to use them. This annoys Miss Daisy, but when Hoke insists, she realizes that they are indeed outside her comfort zone. She begins to fear for her safety while he is away from the car. More importantly, she begins to really soften towards him.
After Idella (a wonderfully low-key but sarcastic Esther Rolle) dies, it is just the two of them. Hoke tries to give cooking suggestions to Miss Daisy, who acts as if she is refusing them but is secretly taking them. In 1966 the Temple in Atlanta is bombed, and Hoke tells her the story of a lynching he once witnessed. This upsets her, but she begins to see that the racism she faces as a Jew is similar to the racism Hoke must face as a black man. When Martin Luther King, Jr comes to town to speak at a benefit, Miss Daisy goes but neglects to invite Hoke. When she jokes about going with him, he takes it personally. This is the first time she realizes that she is not as "free thinking" as she thought she was. Even later, she begins to suffer from dementia, and Boolie places her in a home.
This film is very intimate. It has only a handful of characters in it. Really, the only two characters we care about are the two main stars. who are in nearly every scene. Similar to last year's Best Picture (Rain Man), this is a character-driven story, in no way an "epic." The biography of Miss Daisy takes approximately twenty years (going by the dates on the cars' license plates). In that time Miss Daisy learns more about herself than she is willing to admit. It's totally Jessica Tandy's film, and she deserved Best Actress for her work. Alfred Uhry won Best Screenplay for his adaptation of his own play. The film also won Best Make-Up, for the illusion that their characters all aged twenty years. However, the director, Bruce Beresford, did not win Best Director; he was not even nominated. It is very rare that a Best Picture-nominated film does not also have its director nominated. Morgan Freeman and Dan Ackroyd (as Boolie) were both nominated (for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectfully), but did not win.  

Driving Miss Daisy
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1989*
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck & Lili Fini Zanuck
Directed  by Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by Alfred Uhry
Based on his play  

This will give you a feel for their relationship.
I think it must be a great play to watch. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Born On The Fourth Of July
Dead Poets Society
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot
Born on the Fourth of July is the Oliver Stone directed film about Tom Cruise going off to the Vietnam War as a soldier but coming home as an anti-war activist. It is some of Cruise's best work, and Stone won Best Director. Dead Poets Society is the well-known drama about Robin Williams teaching at a boys' school in New England. He was nominated for Best Actor. Field of Dreams is the film with Kevin Costner building a baseball diamond in the middle of nowhere. I did not understand this film when I first saw it; perhaps I should see it again. And My Left Foot is the film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a quadriplegic who can only move one of his limbs. He won Best Actor for his role.

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