Driving Miss Daisy

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Bottom Line: A bit of a difficult script, but an otherwise fantastic film.

“I’ve never been prejudiced in my life and you know it.” –Jessica Tandy as Daisy Werthan
“Okay, then why don’t you ask Hoke to go with you?” –Dan Aykroyd as Boolie Werthan
“Hoke? Don’t be ridiculous. He wouldn’t go.” –Jessica Tandy as Daisy Werthan

Directed by: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Esther Rolle, Jessica Tandy, Joann Havrilla, Morgan Freeman, Patti LuPone

Bittersweet period piece follows Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), a Southern, elderly, Jewish woman. Due to her old age and difficulty with driving, her son (Dan Aykroyd) looks for a chauffeur that is willing to drive her from place to place on a daily basis. He finds Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), a cheerful black man. At first, Daisy is mad about this, her being a racist white woman. Despite that part of her, she begins to treat Hoke like the respectful man that he is, rather than something close to a piece of trash that at least knows how to drive, and to even befriend him.

It’s easy to admit that during the course of this film, we never see character Daisy in either one of her car’s front seats. Contrarily, all actor Jessica Tandy does in her role IS take the front seat. I love Morgan Freeman. In fact, if you asked me to name any one of his roles that his disappointed me thus far, all I could do to respond is stare into space and evoke continuous filler words. But the one who really delivers here is Tandy. When we first meet her character, we’d want to kill her. She wants nothing of Hoke, and she even seems to shun her son upon his hiring him. Yet she claims to never have had an ounce of prejudice in her heart. Tandy gradually turns her character from someone so despicable into someone who enjoys having the company of Hoke. Her character actually, believe it or not, becomes a bit enjoyable; it’s difficult to even imagine someone other than Tandy taking on such a drastic change of character.

“I’m goin’, Miss Daisy.” –Esther Rolle as Idella
“All right Idella, see you tomorrow.” –Jessica Tandy as Daisy Werthan
“I’m goin’ too, Miss Daisy.” –Morgan Freeman as Hoke Colburn
“Good!” –Jessica Tandy as Daisy Werthan

It couldn’t have been easy to write DRIVING MISS DAISY. Both sides of racism are put into perspective here. While the main character is filled with prejudice, the film itself is set for quite a bit during the 1960s, with the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. lingering in the forefront. Although these themes were written out well by Alfred Uhry (who adapted this from a play he had written), the script has a problem with the fashion in which it presents dialogue. I haven’t ever heard an African-American man say “Lord knows” to start a sentence. I can picture it, but certainly not as much as Morgan Freeman’s character did in this film. It seemed every time he spoke, “Lord knows this” and “Lord knows that”. Also, at one point in the film, Miss Daisy tells Hoke he is her “best friend”. Had I not seen this film, I wouldn’t have ever been able to imagine a woman so old calling anyone a “best friend”, no matter what he or she has done for her. It strikes me as the colloquialism of those far younger. Though Tandy does well as Miss Daisy, it seems the script scars her character more than it does to any other character in the film.

DRIVING MISS DAISY was an interesting film. It’s not totally implausible that an elderly 1960s white woman would befriend a black man, so it’s quite realistic. Add the fact that she’s Jewish in and somehow it seems a bit more authentic. Other than the flaws of the script, this was a solidly decent movie. It has its time for light humor, and it has the power to even share with us the laughter Hoke and Miss Daisy enjoy as their friendship solidifies. Furthermore, this is a heartfelt drama that can blend those sweet moments with more sentimental moments. For anyone remotely intrigued by the story, it’s well worth a watch.

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10 thoughts on “Driving Miss Daisy

  1. It’s been ages since I saw this but I remember really liking this one. I mean, Morgan Freeman is always wonderful. Funny that I had just seen Jessica Tandy in one of her first roles in her 20s but I always think of her as Miss Daisy πŸ˜€

  2. I liked the film, but have always felt it shouldn’t have won the Oscar, especially since the best film of 1989 and a better, harder-hitting race film, Spike Jonze’s Do The Right Thing, wasn’t even nominated.

    Good review. I agree with your criticisms of the film, and enjoyed it overall.

    • You mean Spike Lee, not Spike Jonze, right? Do the Right Thing is on my list of films to see, as well as Malcolm X, which came three years later. This didn’t hit the subject of race very hard (it couldn’t, being a PG-rated movie, and–as of 2012–the last film of that classification to win Best Picture), but it still depicts Miss Daisy’s prejudice quite well. I’m glad you liked it, as well.

  3. I liked the film, but I don’t think it holds up as the Best Picture of that year. Do the Right Thing, Cinema Paradiso, Crimes and Misdemeanors, When Harry Met Sally, sex, lies, and videotape, Field of Dreams,and My Left Foot came out that year and they’re all much much better films. I’m still amazed Dan Aykroyd was nominated for Best Supporting Actor against Denzel Washington in Glory. Talk about a mismatched category! Great review.

    • I love Crimes and Misdemeanors and I like Field of Dreams, but I haven’t seen any of those others you mentioned. Most of them are on my list. I always think Glory should have been nominated for Best Picture, maybe even won over this. And although I gave it an A-, I still can’t see it winning BP.

      I never knew Aykroyd went up against Washington that year! It sounds like a bit of injustice, to me. Aykroyd was good, but definitely not deserving of a nomination. And there’s no way he could have ever taken the award over Denzel Washington.

  4. Ive never been able to enjoy this one. It always manages to make me uncomfortable. You made some very interesting observations, but the things you pointed out in Morgan Freeman’s dialog…it’s pretty on-par for the way some people from the South talked back then…some even now.

    • Thanks. This is actually an example of a Best Picture Oscar winner that got generally lower reviews than you would expect. To be specific, a 79% Rotten Tomatoes grade, whereas most others are up in the later 80s and all over the 90s. A few other examples are Dances with Wolves, A Beautiful Mind, Out of Africa, and (to go to the extremes) The Broadway Melody. The first two I didn’t care for all that much (I’d give DWW a B- and ABM a C), and the last two I haven’t bothered to watch yet. So I was surprised by how much I liked this.

      About Freeman’s speech, I have to say I’ve probably heard African-Americans say “Lord knows” periodically, but certainly not as pervasively as in this film. It started to get on my nerves.

    • Thought I might share with you something amusing that happened to me tonight:
      I’m an avid fan of the game show Jeopardy! on ABC, and I was watching Friday’s episode to catch up. There was a category called “Play Characters”, and the $400 clue was something like, “Hoke Colburn drives this woman around”. So I shouted…”Who is Miss Daisy? Wait a minute, didn’t I just watch that movie yesterday?” I thought that was a bit bizarre. πŸ˜€

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