Driving Miss Daisy (review)

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Odd Couple

Atlantan Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) is a “fine, rich, Jewish lady,” says her black chauffeur, Hoke Coburn (Morgan Freeman). Driving Miss Daisy is the bittersweet drama about the unspoken friendship between this unlikely pair over a quarter of a century, from 1948 to 1973.

Daisy resents all that Hoke represents: getting older and losing the independence and privacy driving her car herself had previously given her. But her minor accident convinced her businessman son, Boolie (Dan Aykroyd), to put Hoke on his payroll. Boolie knows how obstinate his mother is, but as he tells Hoke, “She can say anything she likes, but she can’t fire you.” Grudgingly, Daisy accepts Hoke’s presence and gradually overcomes her subconscious bigotry — hence her repeated claims that “I’m not prejudiced” — to see Hoke as a true friend.

Two factors elevate Driving Miss Daisy way above the sappy, sledgehammer movie-of-the-week it could so easily have been. The film’s pokes at racism are as gentle as its humor, but they also sting, and the behavior of whites toward blacks is not the only target. Daisy calls blacks “children”; she disapproves of her daughter-in-law “socializing with Episcopalians” and trying to look Christian by having a Christmas party. When another white woman tries to woo Hoke away from Boolie’s employ, Hoke assures him that he “ain’t goin’ workin’ for some trashy somethin’ like her” — snobbery among servants. And in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, we’re reminded that Daisy is as much an outcast in the postwar South as Hoke. Two traffic cops who’d stopped Hoke merely for driving a nice car watch him drive off with Daisy. “An old nigger and an old Jew woman taking off down the road together,” one cop says to the other. “That is one sorry sight.”

The other factor is author Alfred Uhry’s (the film is based on his play) pointed characterizations of Daisy, Hoke, Boolie, and others. Instead of belabored, overwrought portraits, he often lets a single line of dialogue pin down a character. Hoke mentions to Boolie that he used to like “wrasslin’ hogs” at killing time, and none ever got away, so we know he’ll have no trouble handling Daisy. Boolie tells Hoke that his mother is “all there — too much there”; Daisy’s housekeeper, Idella (Ester Rolle), mutters to herself about Daisy, “Sometimes I think you ain’t got the sense God gave a lemon.” These snippets tells us as much as Boolie and Idella as they do about Daisy.

Populated by likable, if prickly characters, Driving Miss Daisy is biting and lively.

Oscars Best Picture 1989
unforgettable movie moment:
Stubborn Daisy won’t get in the car with Hoke, so he follows her as she walks along the sidewalk, pestering her till she gets in and orders him to drive so slowly that he mutters to himself, “Might as well be walkin’.”

previous Best Picture:
1988: Rain Man
next Best Picture:
1990: Dances with Wolves

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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