As much as popular culture pushes the boundaries when it comes to sexuality and dating high jinks, it often comes back to the basics. Monogamy. Traditional values. Courtship.
It’s why Ben Kingsley’s character in “Learning to Drive” might be the most unlikely romantic lead you’ll see all year.
The film offers a rare look at middle-aged romance, the kind most TV shows and films like to avoid. The Oscar winner plays Darwan, an Indian man who holds down two jobs to pay the bills. He’s a devout Sikh waiting for his family to choose his spouse for him. He doesn’t believe in Western dating mores.
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Yet when a suddenly separated woman (Patricia Clarkson) hires him for driving lessons, she sees something different. Darwan is dependable and smart. He works hard, accepts responsibility for his actions and stays faithful to his beliefs. Slowly, Clarkson’s Wendy realizes he might be the kind of man she needs.
Consider, also, “The Longest Ride,” the spring screen romance starring Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood. The younger star plays a bull rider smitten by a college girl (Brittany Robertson). The pair meet, sparks fly and he asks her out on a date. Simple, right?
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It’s just that Eastwood’s character isn’t showing up for a hookup or casual fling, the kind routinely seen in colleges across the country. He dresses up in his cowboy best, grabs a thicket of beautiful flowers and approaches the woman’s door like a gentleman. The response? The girl swoons. So do her girlfriends, gathered in her collegiate dorm to look, slack-jawed, at the handsome man who came a-courting.
It’s a sign of the times that formerly commonplace gestures could inspire such a reaction. We’ve come a long way, baby, and it’s not always for the best.
“Learning to Drive” opens nationwide this weekend after a limited theatrical release. It’s a tough sell given its older cast and gentle storytelling. Box office results will likely be modest at best. Yet the story itself, and its messages, will likely resonate with the small crowds willing to give this atypical romance a chance.