RETRO REVIEW – ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 15, 1989
DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Peter James
WRITER: Alfred Uhry
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer

“Driving Miss Daisy” is based on an off Broadway play by Alfred Uhry. He also wrote the screenplay for the film as well. The film became a critical and commercial hit when it was released on December 15, 1989. The movie then went on to receive nine nominations at the Academy Awards and won four including Best Picture.

The film tells the story of Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy). Daisy is a 72-year-old widow who, in 1948, totals her car. After being told by her son, Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) that she cannot get insured anymore, Daisy tries to do things on her own such as using the public transportation and the taxi company.

Once it becomes clear this won’t work, Boolie hires Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) to be her personal chauffeur. However, things do not go smoothly at first. Daisy is an independent, cantankerous old woman who will not have anything dictated to her. She is also a rich woman, but no one will ever be able to get her to admit that, even Hoke.

Over time, however, the persistence of Hoke wins out and Daisy starts to allow him to drive her around to run her errands. Soon, the two become friends and begin to learn that while they may come from two different worlds, they have a lot in common and begin to learn from each other.

The main driving force behind this film is obviously the relationship between Daisy and Hoke. One half of this relationship, Daisy, is played by the wonderful Jessica Tandy. As the film progresses, Tandy flawlessly transitions from the angry, reclusive old woman who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone to a woman who is having to finally deal with her own issues throughout the years including her own prejudice.

There is one scene, in particular, that stands out from the rest of Tandy’s scenes. It is a simple monologue about Daisy’s first visit to Mobile, Alabama. Any other actress could have easily dropped the ball with this scene. However, in Tandy’s masterful hands, she is in complete control and the audience is swept in. If anyone in the history of the Academy Awards earned their Oscar, it was Tandy for this one scene alone much less the entire film.

Of course, as stated above, Tandy is only one half of the relationship. Hoke is played by veteran actor Freeman and when the show premiered off Broadway, it was Freeman who played the main chauffeur. When news that a film was going to be made based on the play got out, director Bruce Beresford said that he went to go see the show and was told by Freeman that he was going to play the role in the film.

Needless to say, the actor was the perfect choice. Freeman knows that there is more to Hoke than when he first appears on film. Hoke seems to come off as a man who is not too bright, but soon the audience learns that Hoke is actually a very intelligent man with a lot of common sense.

Freeman is fantastic in this role and is on par with Tandy throughout the entire film. While it was well deserved that Tandy got the Oscar for Best Actress, Freeman got cheated and should have won the award for giving one of his best performances.

His stand out scene appears while Hoke is driving Miss Daisy back to her house after her Temple has been bombed. While driving, Hoke tells Miss Daisy a story about how he and one of his childhood friends came across a man they knew who had been lynched. Freeman is great at balancing the optimistic view that Hoke has throughout the film but injecting just enough pain that Hoke is feeling while remembering the story.

In the hands of lesser actors, this film could have easily fallen apart, but due to the brilliant performances by Tandy and Freeman, “Driving Miss Daisy” has become a well-deserved classic.

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