Driving Miss Daisy
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by Alfred Uhry
Starring Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, and Dan Aykroyd
Available to stream on Netflix
Driving Miss Daisy comes in at #3 on my list of movies about the old folks, but in the last 20 years or so, it has featured prominently on a different type of list–most unworthy Best Picture winners. To be fair, I agree that it shouldn’t have won the award. The statuette should have gone to Do the Right Thing, which incidentally wasn’t even nominated (for shame). But to call this film unworthy is entirely unfair. It’s still a masterpiece of storytelling–funny, warm, and meaningful.
The story follows the long, unlikely friendship of Daisy Werthan, a rich, old Southern sass, and her chauffeur Hoke. In sweeping style it covers over a quarter of a century of their adventures. The relationship is unlikely not only because he is her employee, but because he is black and she is a Jew. This might sound like the beginning of a bad joke, and to be honest that’s how the character’s neighbors and friends likely viewed the situation.
At one point in the story, the two are driving from Georgia to Alabama for a birthday party when they are stopped by two racist cops. They make a bug fuss about a black man driving such a fancy car, and for a second I thought things would get real nasty. There is a tension built here, and other places in the movie as well–a tension that is hinted at only because we know the dark (and all too recent) history of racism in our country. But the story leaves it mostly at hints. This is not a message movie about racism or anything else really. It allows itself to be a story about two people, two friends, without resorting to an overdone discourse on the evils of segregation.
In general, the movie is actually very lighthearted. We laugh at the cantankerous mannerisms of Miss Daisy and smile at the bubbly attitude of Hoke. Some people have actually called out Morgan Freeman’s cheerful performance of Hoke, saying that it reinforces racial stereotypes of the “finger-licking-good” black man. But it works for the story. Miss Daisy’s grumpiness needs a foil, and Hoke provides that. They contrast each other perfectly. She teaches him patience, he teaches her to have fun. She shows him how to read, he shows her how to cook fried chicken. More importantly they provide each other with ears to listen, shoulders to cry on, and decades of memories.