Driving Lessons is the type of movie that makes you want to single-handedly dismantle the British film industry. The U.K. is responsible for some of the worst recent cinema imaginable, much of it resembling this worthless tripe, a dramedy with not one scene that rings true, or one germ of a decent idea. Written and directed by Jeremy Brock (who co-penned The Last King of Scotland), it tells yet another summer vacation story, or that’s the general idea since the film can hardly ever be bothered to provide anything resembling characterization or narrative framework. Ben (Rupert Grint) is 17, under the thumb of his monstrous Christian mother (Laura Linney, making the laziest stab at a British accent ever), and desperate for something fulfilling. So for some ungodly reason, he decides the way to go is caretaking for an old bat named Evie (a nerve-gratingly awful Julie Walters), a former actress who lurches around her unruly English home like a geriatric Gollum, spouting off supposed words of wisdom to our young hero, a budding poet. If that sounds contrived, you won’t believe some of the lows this movies hits to create dramatic moments: It’s like someone took the foolproof pieces of a coming-of-age tale, put them in a box, took a shit it in, and unleashed it for the world.
Not unlike Walters’s character in the film, who at one point swallows a car key to provide a long night-camping scene where the young teen and the geezer talk life (in the most boring chitchat scenes ever committed to film). Seemingly edited with a chainsaw, leaving out major scenes (like Ben’s parents ever having a single scene that establishes their relationship, or Evie’s life outside of being a shrill, rambling wreck), but anything that makes this thing end faster is a plus. Here’s a movie so callous and disrespectful to its characters, it sets up a terminal illness that ends up being false and actually allows Linney’s character (the only sensible-seeming one to these eyes) to be mowed down by an automobile (!), you know, because she’s a bitch. Walters’s shtick gets old practically by the end of her first scene, but the real disappointment is how colorless and miserable Grint’s performance is. A bright spot in the dismal Harry Potter series, his entire performance consists of flaring his nostrils and bugging out his eyes. All through the film, he’s told how bright he is (he even gets laid by a pretty English girl, another thrown away bit), but we have absolutely no idea what the hell these people are talking about. Like every other inane detail of this celluloid zero, we’re just supposed to accept it. Take your cue from Evie, who yacks in a sink at one interval (don’t get your hopes up, she doesn’t die in it), and puke this hairball back up.