‘Driving Miss Daisy’: My all-time favorite gets its due

Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Directed by Bruce Beresford

My review of “Driving Miss Daisy,” the timeless classic from 1989, cannot be read without the beautiful “Driving” theme by Hans Zimmer playing in the background. Here, play this as you read on.

Ahhh, that’s better. Now, where was I? Of course, just reviewing my favorite movie of all time.

Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy, in an Oscar-winning role) is a stubborn, sarcastic, scathingly honest Jewish woman living in Georgia. When she crashes her car in her own driveway, her son Boolie (Dan Akroyd) knows she’ll need a chauffeur to get to temple and the Piggly Wiggly. But she simply won’t have it, some man sitting in her kitchen and invading her privacy. She’ll get around just fine without one. Regardless, Boolie hires Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) to drive his mother around. Their complicated relationship, over the course of a decades-long emotional journey, spreads a subtle social message about love, acceptance, and overcoming adversity.

Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Now, I know that nowadays it is not in vogue to enjoy this mid-20th-century period piece. Since it won Best Picture in 1989 (after “Do the Right Thing” was snubbed), people have pointed out its more regressive stances on race. And yes, “Driving Miss Daisy” is certainly not as bold as a Spike Lee joint. But every time I watch it, the film’s central relationship warms my heart. So does the soft hues of its Georgia setting, the Oscar-nominated lead performances (Tandy won, Freeman didn’t), and that damn Hans Zimmer music. It all sets a mood that sets me at ease. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s Morgan Freeman’s characteristic laugh. Maybe it’s Miss Daisy’s arc from grumpy old lady to warm old lady. Maybe it’s that Daisy’s internal racism is acknowledged by the film (though not by her, G-d forbid) and dealt with. It’s not “Do the Right Thing,” but that’s because it deals with a different form of racism. This is a racism of ignorance, or of indifference. In “Do the Right Thing,” race is something every character has to grapple with every single day. In “Driving Miss Daisy,” it’s something Daisy can go (and has gone) most of her life without ever having to consider or acknowledge…that is, until she meets someone who makes her reconsider.

Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

But beyond that, the movie is just GOOD. Morgan Freeman is one of Earth’s most recognizable people, but here he melts into his character (as much of a caricature as Hoke might be…I think that grew from the overly theatrical stage delivery). And Jessica Tandy is remarkable. What helps Tandy’s terrific line delivery are terrific lines for her to deliver. Thanks to screenwriter Alfred Uhry (who also wrote the stage play the film is based on), Tandy and Freeman have a masterpiece to work with. The script is filled with literary flourishes and subtle social commentary, but the Georgian keeps it peachy, not preachy. Uhry has a way with words. It’s an inspirational story about friendship and love, but it’s not sappy. It handles tough subjects like bigotry and hate with a soft hand. You might cry, but you’ll certainly laugh.

Cinematographer Peter James creates in “Driving Miss Daisy” an atmosphere that sets you right down into mid-century Georgia. It’s soft and bright, almost with an angelic haze surrounding it at all times. Maybe it provokes thoughts of “the good ol’ days” that are better left un-thought. But it’s beautiful, and Zimmer’s score certainly doesn’t hurt the feeling. I admit that it’s not as powerful as “Do the Right Thing” at calling out racism. Spike Lee was ahead of his time. Nowadays, “Driving Miss Daisy” might look like it wasn’t doing enough. But in my opinion, you can recognize Spike Lee’s talent and forward-thinking without dismissing other great movies from the same era. Give this film a chance.

9/10

2 thoughts on “‘Driving Miss Daisy’: My all-time favorite gets its due

  1. Good review. I don’t think it deserved Best Picture, but it’s not a bad movie by any means. Very sentimental, but Tandy and Freeman are so good that it rarely ever became a problem for me.

    1. The only other nominees I’ve seen were “Field of Dreams” and “Dead Poets Society,” and I think it’s better than those two overall. And, really, both of those movies are sentimental as well. Maybe 1989 was just a mushy-gushy year!

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