Rupert Grint, otherwise known as Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley, steps out of the sidekick corner for a leading role in Driving Lessons. Ben (Grint) is a seventeen-year-old learning, with no small metaphorical weight, to drive. His religious, domineering mother (Laura Linney) is no help; instead, he learns unexpected (to the movie’s characters, anyway) life lessons from a summer job helping has-been actress Evie Walton (Julie Walters) around the house— and on the road, natch.
Grint’s Potter work has left him with plenty of experience with the humor of adolescent awkwardness. But he doesn’t use much of it in this coming-of-age story, meeting events with a lost, downtrodden sulk, as if worn down from all of those patented Weasley reaction shots. Or maybe he feels oppressed by the buzzing, swearing, Shakespeare-quoting Walters, acting straight from the quasi-unconventional life-loving playbook. We’re supposed to find this hamminess — in both the fake and actual actress — delightful or even, shudder, magical. I took it more as an indicator of the drabness of Ben’s life, which is apparently awful enough to be revolutionized by an onslaught of quasi-outrageousness.
Linney completes a trifecta of disastrously under-directed performances in a role that caters to her worst instincts — playing both a Brit and a zealot, she runs wild with the self-conscious, cartoonish rigidity that sometimes turns up in her less nuanced films. Writer-director Jeremy Brock composes some shots and sequences with visual polish, but he keeps making odd, abrupt cuts, trying to hack the movie into deadpan wit. Alas, his screenplay fits perfectly with the Walters performance: broad, obvious, and sentimental, about nothing in particular.