Thursday, March 4, 2010

Old Folks & Pumpkin Pie

When it first appeared in theatres twenty-one years ago, like many others, I happily paid the ticket price to see a showing of Driving Miss Daisy. All these years later, I can only vaguely remember that I enjoyed the picture, thought it well made, and not much surprised when it later picked up four Academy Awards. Until two nights ago, it remained the faded memory of nothing more than a good movie I saw a long time ago, another of many. Perhaps it is a story that for me needed a second telling, but for whatever reason, Driving Miss Daisy didn’t stay with me long after 1989.

Two nights ago the picture turned up on one of my cable TV channels, and I was happy to tune it in, quite willing to see again what 1989’s Best Picture (Academy Award) had to offer. For those who have forgotten the story, or missed seeing it altogether, the story in its simplest line is uncomplicated. It revolves around a well-to-do elderly Jewish woman, and her relationship with the Black man who becomes first her driver, and gradually over the years her friend. The movie is an adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s Off-Broadway play, which won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and also starred Morgan Freeman. Mr Uhry says that the story is semi-biographical, and the story of his own grandmother and her driver.

It is set in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia between the years from 1948 to 1973. This is a time that saw the beginning of the civil rights movement, and the gradual changes that followed, and a time that brought Martin Luther King to national prominence. A large part of the story is connected to that, as race and prejudice are a theme throughout. Story wise it is no small matter that Miss Daisy is Jewish, and that her driver is Black, or that they are navigating southern society during a racially volatile period of American history. The movie might almost be seen as a microcosm of changing racial attitudes in a southern city during the years of the civil rights movement. But this is a gentle tale (some may label it sentimental) of changing mores among the slightly privileged, and nothing at all like the fiery movie of racial hatred, Mississippi Burning, released a year earlier in 1988.

The major theme of Driving Miss Daisy is built around how one heart affects another, how one kind and dedicated soul impacts the stubborn pride of another. Through a series of vignettes and encounters between Miss Daisy and Hoke, the driver forced upon her, we watch the growth of their relationship, the gradual melting of that stubbornness, and the dissolve of an old woman’s ‘genteel bigotry.’ As Miss Daisy ages and her body shrinks, the complete opposite is happening in terms of her humanity and the relationship she has with her friend and driver, Hoke Colburn.

I watched the closing credits roll by feeling terribly moved, wholly impressed by what struck me as a marvelous collaboration of talent. Jessica Tandy is nothing short of luminous in her portrayal of the humorless and headstrong Miss Daisy, while we can never for a moment question the gentle, kind, patience and honesty of Morgan Freeman’s Hoke. It all shines in his eyes. This was his first starring role in a major film, and perhaps he should have been awarded an Oscar also. The background star of this movie is the period culture of Atlanta, beautifully captured in every aspect by the designers and the cinematographer, who recreated the homes and streets of old Atlanta, the factories and billboards, period cars, and the fashion and makeup.

The last scene in the movie is as near perfection as is possible. It is a scene of Hoke feeding Miss Daisy her Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, both twenty-five years older, and with everything of their years together lighting their faces.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America