Driving Miss Daisy
Covering 25 years, this film explores characters as few films do, showing Miss Daisy Werthan (Tandy), a proud old Southern lady, and Hoke Colburn (Freeman), her chauffeur, learning to care for each other. They meet in 1948: Miss Daisy has driven her Packard into her neighbor's yard, and her son (Aykroyd) insists she have a chauffeur, but she refuses. Her son hires Hoke to convince Miss Daisy to let him drive.Thus begins a 25-year war of wills of two stubborn, proud old people.
At 80, Tandy gives her best performance yet. Freeman's, based on close observation and quiet nuance, shows Hoke's infinite patience, and is a revelation. Hoke isn't obsequious or ingratiating, but wise. If Miss Daisy doesn't want him to drive her to Piggy Wiggly, he won't - but he follows her in the car, now a shiny 1949 Hudson. Hoke defuses the situation by saying a car shouldn't be unused.
Eventually Miss Daisy agrees, and over the years, she and Hoke learn about each other. Each is slow to emote. Miss Daisy is a proud Southern Jewish liberal; Hoke helps her connect an attack on her local synagogue with Klan attacks on black churches. When she goes to a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., Hoke drives; but she never thinks to invite him, although she has an extra ticket. "Things have changed," she observes calmly, meaning race relations in the South. He says that they haven't changed much. In 1973, the two now-old people realize their bond. In body language, tones of voice, and looks in their eyes, the two create an immensely subtle film - one that looks into the heart, and is a treat.
Pauline Kael, reviewing Freeman in "Street Smart" (1987), asks if he's the greatest American actor. Comparing him there with him as Hoke, we see two distinct characters. In "Daisy," Tandy matches him. Aging from a sprightly widow in her 60s to an infirm woman in and out of senility in her 90s, she gives a complete portrait of old age.
Director Bruce Beresford, an Australian whose work includes "Tender Mercies" and "Crimes of the Heart," and the underrated "The Fringe Dwellers" (1986) about an Aborigine teenager, works from Uhry's screenplay and play based on memories of his grandmother and her chauffeur. Beresford shows us his characters' hearts. In a luminous final scene, we're in on one of the most privileged mysteries of life: Two people let each other see inside.
Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Dan Akroyd
Deep South in the 1940s; black chaffeur for an elderly white
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