DRIVING LESSONS (Jeremy Brock). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (November 10). For venues and times, see Movies, page 145. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Driving Lessons isn't a complete wreck, but it stalls and starts and nearly runs out of gas.
Shy, poetry-loving 17-year-old Ben ( Rupert Grint ) leads a miserable life with his ineffectual vicar father ( Nicholas Farrell ) and his frustrated, high-strung mom ( Laura Linney ), who uses the excuse of giving the boy driving lessons to rendezvous with a younger man of the cloth.
Things perk up when Ben takes a job as assistant to a middle-aged, washed-up actor, Evie ( Julie Walters ), who recites Shakespeare, boozes and blasphemes, all of which eventually wins the kid's heart and puts him on the road to maturity.
Evie's the kind of lovable eccentric (Madame Sousatzka's another) who only exists in middlebrow schlock like this. Walters, given a fake hunchback, hams it up shamelessly with her Harry Potter co-star Grint, who's perfected the art of the adolescent glower and holds his own even with his more experienced co-stars.
Unfortunately, Brock's script, partly inspired by his own teenage experience as an assistant to Dame Peggy Ashcroft, never stays on track. It can't decide if it's a coming-of-age movie or a dark satire about religious hypocrisy. And despite a funny opening scene -- the movie's comic high point -- that promising title never pays off.