Review: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
This ain’t about doing the right thing. This is not about intended racial dialogue or the idea of human life vs property. It’s not a heated day, and human nature under pressure. It’s a job, one needed and one to pass the time. It’s about driving miss daisy.. and that’s about it. I gather the people behind this thought there was something about friendship and intimate information, of getting to know about each other. I don’t buy it. Now I happen to like old people, and not just for the essential nutrients we drain from them to make soylent green. I think it’s fun to cheat death, and to learn more then the day before, and to lessen the suffering of others. Miss Daisy maybe did the former, but she never, at least intentionally, does the latter. She just moves around on the work of others.
There are three characters that the film cares about: Miss Daisy(Jessica Tandy), who is driven by Hoke (Morgan freeman), who was hired to do so by Daisy’s son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd). There’s also Idella but she’s a tragic event ticking down. Everyone else moves things along and provides some lines. Probably done to note it’s a film, and not a play like the source material. This is an film with invisible technique; director Bruce Beresford keeps himself and his crew (save for Han Zimmer’s occasional jarring synthesizers) in the far, far background, like a classical painting with lush forest in the distance distance, and two characters in the lake up front. It’s very nicely shot, and very leisurely, but there’s no explicit style for style sake compositions. It’s all about the three aforementioned people, with Boolie not quite as important. Suffice to say, I will be discussing them and only them from now on. And my mileage varies considerably.
You’d think Hoke, as the person who drives, would be the main character, and be privy to some of his thoughts. Nope. Miss Daisy appears first, and we don’t get Hoke until at least another ten minutes. Even afterward he is rarely without being in the prescience of her, and even then he’s usually talking about her. This has the lingering ghost of indentured servitude(aka slavery) to it. But what really digs it in is little things. Film is voyeurism, and people are repeated habits. Hoke has this kinda yokel laugh, like “Ah-he-he-he-he-he!’ where each dash has a sharp in and exhale. Ever been around a girl who has to pretend to be dumb and has a utterly fake but non-threatening giggle, as if to say “I’m an airhead?” The kind that’s done because she thinks that’s the way to fit in or not be a threat? Yeah, that’s what Hoke’s laugh is like. Thankfully it’s subdued later on, but it’s pretty persistent, and even with smaller laughs, you wonder why the fuck he does that. Oh yeah, probably because it’s in the South, which is the worst of us stance toward non white races. Of course all American are still uncomfortable with race, but this section takes the cake. And Hoke’s character largely lingers in that shadow.
I don’t really care to take about Miss Daisy, but this films seems to adore her, so let’s get on with it. It isn’t stupid enough to have her be a saint, but even her moments of very slight humiliation as passed over with “oh, she’s old and kooky”. This is especially hard to take given that the film is very consistent in noting that Miss Daisy is Jewish, whom, as anyone with a modicum of history knows, faced some harsh times. So you think she would be a little more sensitive to the fact with the prejudice Hoke faces, would consider inviting him to see Martin Luther king jr (more on that in a sec) or bond with him over the fact they both have similar enemies such as when the film notes the same people who lynch black tend to firebomb synagogues. Sadly not. Then again a lot of orthodox Jews tend to downplay there were also pink triangles along with the yellow stars in the concentration camps (some having both). Sadly, while LGBT and Jewish people have the same enemies some would rather fight amongst themselves then band together and help. It’s a said indicator of the way a lot of US system works. I think the film is trying to show amends here with Hoke and Daisy, but her (and the story’s view of) way of ignoring her privilege gets in the way.
A film doesn’t have to have characters act the way you’d want them to, or even be likable in a saccharine way to be good. A compelling story could be made with Miss Daisy’s stubbornness in a non trite way. But with the amicable view the film takes of her kinda sours the whole thing. I wouldn’t find this woman fun to be around, and the film has the opposite point of view. I like it when Hoke stood up to her for his right to go to the bathroom by his own permission, especially when he responds to her coos of progress with “Some things don’t change around here”.) If this movie was slightly more subversive I would say it carps on people who love to say they are liberal and progressive, but still operate from a sense of racism and a kind of paternal authority (“oh they need our help” or “someone else is doing it”). This is no such film. It’s clearly a feel good movie with a little comedy (something Akroyd does pretty well, his accent and word emphasis is spot on) about people “learning” something. Well, that works for Daisy, but what about Hoke? He has to live in that world, he can’t just learn and go home to bingo the night away.
Of course not every film has to take a stand, but when the spectre of racism is brought up again and again, and then rubberbands back to this story a woman who is resistant to having a driver because it exposes her privilege, it just kinda gets up your noise. It’s bad drama and storytelling via character building. I get it; Hoke is suppose to tolerate her, and never defend himself unless in extreme situations, and subtly note his suffering so as to shame his tormentor. This is a great idea; but it largely rests on the fact the tormentor has a conscience. Miss Daisy has none. And the film never acknowledges that. And finally, when she has abandoned by all her friends, and even her mind, she breaks down an says Hoke’s her best (only?) friend. He’s a friend to her like a stranger on facebook (is that redundant)? He was just a person around and hey, some’s gotta shovel that pumpkin pie in that mouth. For 75 dollars a week in 1960’s money? Why not.
Wow, I wrote a whole lot about the circumstances about these characters, and not the characters themselves, huh? I guess that happens when you watch a film about innocuous characters, you realize all that subtext of the film(and it is there) comes to the surface when you gotta think about it. But to ignore race in a story about two minorities (one of whom is treated overlay favorable at the expense of the other) in a span of several decades involving tumultuous racial change and not mention that would be accepting bad dramatics and white washing of the highest order. Which is just what this film did. it brings it in 1/100th of the film length, just to ignore it. That would ruin the good times mood of the film. Maybe makes people realize the way some societies gain happiness on the necks of others.
Sigh. I’m glad Morgan Freeman got a major boost from this film, but I wish someone had cut that belittling laugh, and took a good hard look and this judge it from a distance, rather than fawn over it. I guess Hoke has said “we can begin again.You say we can still be friends” And others love it, it’s so cute. I disagree, I found it belittling and unsatisfying storywise. That’s my honest opinion. Maybe others disagree, but I would rather be alone (on this) then pretend it’s alright.