Thursday, July 19, 2007

The coming of age of Ron Weasley

Fresh from watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and not having had our fill of Weasleys, my sister and I decided to watch Driving Lessons on DVD. It's a British indie film starring Rupert Grint (he of Ron Weasley fame) and Julie Walters (who plays Mrs. Weasley in the HP movies), and it tells the story of an awkward teenage boy, Ben (Grint), who gets a summer job helping a retired theater actress, Evie (Walters). Evie's eccentric and erratic ways drive Ben out of his shell and encourage him to pursue his love for poetry, as well as help him deal with his domineering, hypocritical Bible-thumping mother (the underrated, always reliable Laura Linney).

The plot is simple enough, your typical adolescent-having-a-life-defining-summer thing crossed with boy-meets-crazy-but-caring-parent-substitute thing. It's nothing revolutionary, but what makes this charming little film unique is the adolescent boy himself, and his unusual circumstances. Ben is not your typical carefree, fun-loving teen, nor is he of the angry, angst-ridden variety; he's plain and gawky and shy, and is having a miserable summer thanks to his overbearing mom, who bullies him into contributing part of his summer wages to their bizarre boarder,
attending Bible class and participating in the play as a tree, and keeping secret her affair with the minister in charge of Bible class. Meanwhile Ben's meek, thoroughly whipped vicar dad immerses himself in books about birds, and Ben's crush from Bible class finds him and his poems "too weird". When Ben meets the slightly unhinged Evie, who drags him off camping and takes him on a road trip to Edinburgh without parental permission, it is then he discovers a freedom to be himself, away from his mother and her rigid rules.

Ben's gradual transformation from spineless to self-assured is measured and believable: there is no overnight switch from dorky chump to cool dude, and no drastic changes in behavior-- despite his newfound independence, Ben remains a good kid, but just not a pushover anymore. As Ben, Rupert Grint is a delightful revelation, displaying talent in a nuanced performance that makes Daniel Radcliffe look like an amateur. Unlike his more famous cohort, Grint conveys internal struggle with subtlety, and his outbursts of feeling are nicely controlled. He shines most when sharing scenes with the veteran Walters, who, like Evie does for Ben, seems to effectively draw out Grint's potential. When Evie swallows the car key to prevent Ben from returning home, the way he freaks out is both comic and melancholic, spitting out cuss words in disbelief and desperation. Grint makes Ben a laughable but lovable loser-- you pity him but at the same time you root for him.

Driving Lessons may seem insignificant compared to the giant blockbusters that are the Harry Potter movies, but as is always the case, a smaller film allows actors to flex their dramatic muscles more. And given what I've seen from Rupert Grint, I predict he'll be starring in more movies after the HP series, and showing the world that he's not just Harry Potter's red-headed sidekick anymore.


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