Title: Driving Miss Daisy
Release Date: 13 December, 1989
Oscar Ceremony: 26 March, 1990
Director: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd
Nominees: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
“An old nigger and an old Jew woman takin’ off down the road together… that is one sorry sight!” – Alabama trooper #1
Driving Miss Daisy is the last winner of the 80s, and coincidentally the last winner to get a PG rating. I have also decided to label the 80s as the most cheesy and “vanilla” decade in Oscar history, both in the execution of the films and the overuse of synthesizers in their respective scores. I’m having a bit of deja vu, because my feelings towards Driving Miss Daisy were pretty much identical to my feelings towards Rain Man: enjoyable, but completely clichéd and formulaic.
Jessica Tandy plays Daisy Werthan, a stubborn old Jewish widow who wrecks her car at the beginning of the film and is subsequently deemed “high risk” by the insurance company. As a result, independent old Miss Daisy can’t drive herself around anymore. Her concerned son decides to hire her a chauffeur named Hoke Coleburn, played by Morgan Freeman (aka the man who looks exactly the same today as he did in 1989). Set in her ways, Miss Daisy is NOT happy with the idea, but eventually realizes that she doesn’t have much of a choice. While initially an unlikely duo, the two of them develop a relationship and slowly become friends.
Driving Miss Daisy is a cute movie. I came across a user review describing it as the kind of film your grandma would go watch and say “well, wasn’t that nice?” after it’s over. I’d say that’s pretty much spot on. It is, in fact, very nice.
See the above picture? That’s the filmmakers trying to spoon-feed us the different plot elements of Driving Miss Daisy. Seriously though, both this and Rain Man tend to underestimate their audiences when it comes to their ability to extract meaning from a film and being able to handle anything that goes beyond the facade of an issue. Watching Driving Miss Daisy is a little bit like watching a stone skip over water: it’s amusing, but all it does is repeatedly graze the surface in the same predictable motions. The movie uses stereotype after stereotype to imply that most people are racist even when they claim they’re not, and that friendship is an irreplaceable bond that can be found in the most unlikely places. It also briefly implies that even rich white ladies aren’t immune to acts of prejudice (especially if they happen to be Jewish).
Truth be told, these are important issues to discuss. While some may argue that the film’s light-hearted tone downplays their significance, I think it simply adds a little bit of relatable humanity to them. It doesn’t outwardly condemn things like racism as much as it makes us think about how great everything would be if we all just got along, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. It’s a nice story that hopefully reflects people’s behaviours back to them without being too offensive or hard to stomach.
Once in a while, people need their serious issues packaged for them in the form of carefree entertainment wrapped with a bow. It’s not just a thing of the past; a similar thing happened with last year’s Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures. It was without a doubt a powerful movie, but everything was made to be seen through rose-colored glasses. Most elements were also deeply exaggerated in order to have a stronger, more obvious impact. As a result, the film was very enjoyable, but again, not a cinematic feat.
Maybe having movies like Driving Miss Daisy and Rain Man win the highest honour in Hollywood isn’t such a bad thing. One thing’s for sure, they reach a wider demographic, which can hopefully draw more people to eventually take interest in the wider world of film after seeing them. I don’t think people should solely stick to these types of movies, but everyone needs a little break to get in touch with their human side once in a while without having to worry too much about staying awake or understanding what’s going on.