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Will Harvey Take ‘Driving Lessons’ at Tribeca?

Rupert Grint Press: Will Harvey Take ‘Driving Lessons’ at Tribeca?

Written by Tom O’Neil

What Oscar hopefuls might emerge this week at the Tribeca Film Festival? Last year Harvey Weinstein acquired “Transamerica” in New York and took Felicity Huffman across America to the Kodak Theater. Now there’s a new diva vehicle in the fest lineup that shows off the long-range acting chops of another respected star. Industry-watchers wonder: will Harvey take her and “Driving Lessons” for a spin?

Or will it be hijacked by another savvy Oscar rider like Sony Pictures Classics or Focus Features?

I’ve already seen “Driving Lessons” and can tell you: it’s a helluva ride and it’s obvious Oscar bait based on its setup. Two-time past Oscar nominee Julie Walters (“Billy Elliot,” “Educating Rita”) is a flamboyant, booze-swilling, over-the-hill actress who plays a theatrically outsize Maude (without any icky stuff with the kid) to Rupert Grint‘s awestruck Harold (he plays Ron Weasley in the “Harry Potter” flicks). She’s an eccentric old British bird who lives alone in a big house overstuffed with memorabilia of a long career most distinguished by her once having played a Joan Collins-type bitch on a TV soap. She’s in desperate need of a young helper around the joint and that’s where Grint comes in, arriving as a shy lad eager to escape his restrictive God-fearing home. She introduces him to highbrow culture by casting him opposite her in “Coriolanus” — mugging it to the max, arms outflung, in her overgrown garden. It doesn’t matter that he’s only got a learner’s permit, not an official driver’s license. Next she casts him as her chauffeur, despite his protests, and they embark on a road trip up to Edinburgh where she’ll screw up a poetry recital while he, emboldened by what he’s learned from Walters, meanders off to discover love at last with a pretty young gal.

Walters is an inspiring and magnetic mentor off her nut like Maggie Smith in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (Smith’s first Oscar victory). Oh, except that she’s not recruiting kids to fight for Facism. The fact that Walters portrays an actor instead of a teacher is a plus, considering actors make up the largest chunk of academy voters and they love lampoons of themselves, often nominating roles about hambone overripe thespians past their prime like Annette Bening in “Being Julia,” Albert Finney in “The Dresser” and Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.” Sometimes they even win — like Maggie Smith in “California Suite” or Ronald Colman in “A Double Life.”

“Transamerica” won the best actress award for Huffman at Tribeca last year and now “Driving Lessons” is a current frontrunner. Both have ContentFilm behind the wheel. Last year ContentFilm acquired “Transamerica” at the Berlin Film Festival and brought it to Tribeca to sell off U.S. and Canadian rights and, hopefully, to send it Oscar-bound. Since the strategy worked so well once (well, at least for a nomination), the distributor is trying it again with a film that has another tour-de-force diva turn in the driver’s seat.

“Driving Lessons” costars former Oscar nominee Laura Linney as Grint’s bible-thumping momma and marks the directorial debut of Jeremy Brock, author of the screenplay to “Mrs. Brown” (Oscar nomination for Judi Dench). It’s loosely based upon his own experience as a boyhood protege to Oscar champ Peggy Ashcroft, but Brock confesses some embellishments, insisting that his grand Dame wasn’t really a secret booze bag.

Photo: “Harry Potter’s” Rupert Grint resists, but Julie Walters insists upon teaching him an appreciation for the free-wheeling bohemian life in “Driving Lessons.”
(ContentFilm International)

Original article found here: LA Times | April 23rd, 2006

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