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‘Driving Miss Daisy’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 12, 1990


Bruce Beresford
Morgan Freeman;
Jessica Tandy;
Dan Aykroyd;
Patti LuPone;
Esther Rolle
Parental guidance suggested
Picture; Best Actress; Adapted Screenplay

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"Driving Miss Daisy" shows us that friendship is forged through small kindnesses, a slice of pie, a laugh shared, a sigh of consolation. It is an eloquence of medium-size miracles, changed minds and steady at the wheel, the everyday of Southern life articulated in accents as rich as Georgia's red mud. Set in the waning years of segregation, this lovely comedy salutes mutual understanding in a time of willful ignorance.

Something of an odd couple's bicycle built for two, "Driving Miss Daisy" features Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, extraordinary in tandem. It is a duet marked with unaffected grace and generosity of spirit, and each and every gesture contributes to the whole. Theirs is an actor's pas de deux, a cotillion in which even the lifting of a spoon reveals something of character.

Freeman, arguably America's foremost actor, reprises the chauffeur's role he pioneered in Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. As the well-nigh unflappable Hoke Colburn, he is the embodiment of courtliness in an era of gentility and irrationalism. Tandy is new to the title role of Miss Daisy Werthan, but it fits her like a white summer glove.

Miss Daisy is the wealthy 72-year-old widow of a Jewish textile manufacturer, who still thinks of herself as a poor schoolteacher and doesn't want to put on airs by acquiring a chauffeur. But when she crashes her brand-new 1948 Packard into the neighbor's azaleas and the insurance company cancels her policy, her son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) insists. Boolie hires Hoke, a steadfast widower in his early sixties, to carry the reluctant Miss Daisy to temple, the library and weekly mah-jongg games.

Stubborn as a small-eyed needle and independent as the Statue of Liberty, Miss Daisy must be cajoled, shamed and finally tricked into back-seat driving. When the amiable, barn-broad Boolie warns Hoke about his mother's contrary nature, the chauffeur assures him he's up to the job. "I used to rassle hogs down to the ground. ... Ain't nary a hog got away from me yet," he says. And so begins a friendship with Daisy that flourishes, like the back-yard garden they one day work together, during the next 25 turbulent years.

Successfully adapting his own work, the playwright combines real events -- the 1958 bombing of Atlanta's Temple, a 1965 salute to Martin Luther King Jr. -- with vignettes from Daisy and Hoke's fiction -- a trip to the cemetery, a heartbreaking run-in with the Alabama highway patrol. The automobile serves as a rolling metaphor for the segregation of the races, an imposing vehicle whose passengers nevertheless overcome their differences to find a destination in common.

Bruce Beresford, an Australian with an appreciation of the American South, is directing another eccentric slice of Dixie life. The director of "Tender Mercies" and "Crimes of the Heart," he seems attuned to the rhythms of the region and the irony of its people. The story holds a potential for sap that is mostly unfulfilled thanks to Beresford's stately approach, the stars' better judgment and the protagonists' sharp wits.

Admirably, "Driving Miss Daisy" takes the road less traveled.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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