Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 51: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

PG, 1 hr. 39 min. Directed by: Bruce Beresford. Release Date: June 1, 1989. DVD Release Date: April 29, 1997.

It's strange how the dumbest things can trigger a memory that was long buried in the dark, murky recesses of my noggin. When this popped up on Netflix's Cinematch as available for streaming, I knew I'd seen the movie, but not only couldn't I remember anything about it, I couldn't remember the circumstances. I know that I spent my class hours yesterday complaining about Cinematch once you've gone through about 500 movies on Netflix, but every once in awhile I get a decent recommendation. Even a broken clock… 

Figuring this would be an interesting addition to my blog, I queued it up. As soon as I heard the first couple of notes, I got a solid memory of watching this in the theater. I'm assuming I must have been with the 'rents, because I was stupid back then and would not have gone to see this movie on my own. In 1989, I was12, which kind of limited how frequently I got to go to the movies on my own, although I think that same year I went on my first date with Tiffany… well, I don't remember her last name, but she was a drummer and we saw Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. So, that's enough of my convoluted walk down memory lane. Here's what I thought:

This movie was just as charming now as I remembered it being. Okay, maybe charming is the wrong word. I LOVE the interplay between Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman; they had the evolution of their relationship totally down. I'll even go out on a limb and say that no leading couple (at least not one that I've seen on the screen) has ever had that kind of chemistry on screen under any circumstances. These guys are so natural that I could totally get behind the idea that they were friends in real life. Now, it's true that the society of prejudice that existed in the South frames all that friendship going on between an elderly Jewish woman and her elderly black chauffeur, but I think that the occasional hint of nastiness kept some of the performances from feeling too much like caricatures of what the South and its denizens used to be. I've seen younger black actors pantomime a character that was similar to Morgan Freeman's when they were being asked to do something in a manner that they thought was high-handed or inconsiderate, but I'm fairly sure Mr. Freeman wasn't the source of that characterization.

One of the things that I thought was most impressive was the makeup used to age all the characters, most of whom were already in their middle years. We see the relationship between Tandy and Freeman grow over what I expect is supposed to be more than 20 years. The younger cast members, such as Dan Akroyd and Patti Lupone, are eventually aged to their 60s and we watch the physical condition of the proud Miss Daisy and her friend Hoke decline with old age. It's a very cool process to see. Not only is the makeup great, but I love the cast. Each character is played with a sense of individuality and personality that is often missing in films where there are several repeating minor characters. These guys really didn't miss a trick.