Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Alfred Uhry, Driving Miss Daisy is a touching film about an unlikely friendship. Set in the waning years of segregation, this is an example of the mutual understanding that managed to exist despite being surrounded by mistrust and willful ignorance. In crafting the screenplay, Uhry wisely reconceived his entire story, realizing that what worked on stage didn’t necessarily work on screen. With the help of director Bruce Beresford, he took characters that were barely mentioned, let alone seen, in the stage play and made them an integral part of the story. Watching those characters reactions serves to help the audience realize how Daisy and Hoke’s relationship changes through the years.
The film opens with Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy, who won an Oscar for her portrayal) crashing her car in the driveway. Her son, Boulie (Dan Aykroyd, also Oscar nominated), wants her to have a chauffeur, but she balks at the idea even though no company will give her car insurance. Boolie quietly begins a search for someone to drive his mother around and keep an eye on her. He finds the humble, soft spoken Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman, also Oscar nominated). Upon hiring him, Boolie lets him know that no matter what Miss Daisy says, she can’t fire him. Initially, Daisy stubbornly refuses to let Hoke do anything, leaving him to spend him to spend his time sitting in the kitchen with Daisy’s longtime cook and housemaid, Idella (Esther Rolle).
In his own unassuming way, Hoke proves to be as stubborn as Miss Daisy. After six days—”same time it took the Lord to make the world”, Hoke tells Boulie—Miss Daisy reneges and agrees to a lift to the supermarket, backseat driving all the way. Still determined to rid herself of Hoke, Daisy accuses him of stealing a can of salmon (“black people ALL take things you know”), however the situation is resolved almost to her embarrassment, she softens a little and a major turning point in the relationship occurs.
Over the course of the next quarter century, Daisy and Hoke share a myriad of experiences, some big, some small: reading lessons for Hoke, afternoons in the cemetery, where Miss Daisy carefully tends to her husband’s grave; inside jokes about Boolie’s social-climbing wife, Florine (Patti LuPone); an unexpectedly tense trip to Mobile, Alabama for a family celebration; the bombing of the Atlanta Temple (a real event from 1958 that is set in 1966 for the purposes of the film) and more. All of these events take place through the prism of the ever evolving relationship between Miss Daisy and Hoke.
Morgan Freeman, who reprised the role he first played on stage, is the embodiment of courtliness in an era of intolerance. He brings a quiet charm to the role that’s impossible not to appreciate. It’s easy to see why even a set-in-her-ways Southern lady like Miss Daisy would eventually be won over by Hoke Colburn. Tandy, who had been acting in films sporadically since 1932, is perfect as Daisy. While perhaps initially she seems unlikable, as time goes on, she peels away her character’s tough exterior to reveal a rather interesting individual that the audience comes to care about.
Driving Miss Daisy was a surprise hit when it debuted in theaters back in December of 1989. I remember being surprised by how much I liked it. It was sweet and somehow, relatable. This was a quiet story about friendship; sure it had a deeper message about tolerance, but it wasn’t hitting you over the head with it. There are no real “dramatic” moments, it just makes you smile.
Warner’s 1.85 aspect ratio and 1080p transfer is okay, but it won’t bowl you over. The colors aren’t necessarily dull, but they’re not what you would call vibrant. While the colors are likely dull in part because of the cinematographer’s style, things still feel a bit dated. Thankfully, detail is solid and it doesn’t appear that DNR has been used.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track serves the film pretty well, but it won’t bowl you over. Dialogue is clear throughout, but the lossless track doesn’t offer the kind of absolute clarity I might have hoped for. Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score never really gets a chance to ‘cut loose.’ Clearly dated, this is simply a soundtrack that doesn’t take advantage of everything a lossless track has to offer.
English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Commentary with Director Bruce Beresford, Screenwriter Alfred Uhry and Producer Lili Fini Zanuck: All three participants were recorded separately and their comments edited together. Alfred Uhry offers the most information, offering lots of information about his grandmother and chauffer that inspired Driving Miss Daisy. Uhry and Beresford also discuss the changes that were made to the play to bring it to the screen. Zanuck describes the challenges of getting the film financed.
- Things Are Changing: The Worlds of Hoke and Miss Daisy: (HD, 28:56) In this new documentary, focuses on the community of Atlanta before and during the Civil Rights Movement, providing a look at the city’s Jewish and African American communities. Several people with a connection to the original source material for Driving Miss Daisy offer their thoughts: Alfred Uhry, Morgan Freeman, Janice Rothschild Blumberg, a historian and member of the Atlanta Jewish community and Dr. Robert Pratt, a historian at the University of Georgia and author of several books on the history of race relations in the south, among others.
- Miss Daisy’s Journey: From Stage to Screen (SD, 18:36) This featurette finds Uhry, Beresford and Zanuck (along with producer Richard Zanuck) covering much of the same territory found in the audio commentary. The most interesting thing here are the remarks of make-up artists Lynn Barber and Kevin Haney on the challenges of a film in which the characters age by twenty-five years.
- Jessica Tandy: Theater Legend to Screen Star (SD, 6:43) A tribute to the film’s Oscar winning female star. Alfred Uhry, Bruce Bereford and others offer their thoughts on Miss Tandy.
- 1989 Vintage Making-Of (SD, 6:15) An EPK, featuring interviews with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:20)
- Digibook: The illustrated booklet includes biographical sketches of Tandy, Freeman, Aykroyd, Beresford and Uhry, as well as articles about the making of the film.