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Film Review: "Learning to Drive" 

In the opening scenes of the pleasant but totally unremarkable "Learning to Drive," Wendy, a fragile Manhattanite book critic played by Patricia Clarkson, learns that her husband has been seeing someone else and he plans to leave her (something he's apparently tried several times before, though it appears that this time it's going to stick). The worst of their ensuing argument happens in the backseat of the cab driven by Sikh political refugee Darwan (Ben Kingsley), who returns to her home the next day to give back the purse she left there. A driving instructor by day, he offers her lessons in the film's central metaphor, as Wendy -- who always depended on her husband and public transportation to get around -- must learn to get outside her comfort zone and dig into the messy, dangerous thing we call life.

The two inevitably develop a friendship, growing and learning from one another -- even if their relationship seems awfully one-sided, as it remains unclear exactly what Darwan gets out of the deal. Both actors are better than the material they're given, though Kingsley is saddled with the role of noble minority, and the character too often descends into stereotype. Clarkson gets more to play, but the actress deserves more. The film does gain some layers with the arrival of Darwan's bride, Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), through an arranged marriage. Her tentative steps into a new culture and environment are more insightful than anything that precedes it, but the film ends just as it seems it's finally about to get interesting.

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