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DRIVING MISS DAISY: BROADWAY (2014) review

June 2, 2014

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written by: Alfred Avery

produced by: Richard Moore and Jill Bilcock

directed by: David Esbjornson

rating: unrated

runtime: 90 min.

U.S. release date: June 4, 2014

 

“Driving Miss Daisy” is getting a limited engagement release in theaters from June 4th through June 10th here in the States. Why? It could be because it’s the 30th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film, but this isn’t a re-release. It’s not a remake, a prequel or a sequel, either. This “Driving Miss Daisy” is a play, just like it originally was. It’s also a movie in that it’s a filmed live stage production of the play from a tour a couple of years back starring two seasoned award-winning actors. The idea is to bring a Broadway theatrical presentation to the movie theater, so as many people as possible get a chance to see it.

This theatrical production of “Driving Miss Daisy” was filmed during a 2013 tour, on a stop in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a production directed by David Esbjornson that starred two stage and screen veterans in roles not all of their fans have been able to see. Angela Lansbury plays the titular character, Daisy Werthan, a role which had earned Jessica Tandy an Oscar. James Earl Jones plays Miss Daisy’s chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, a role which earned Morgan Freeman a Golden Globe in 1989, back when the Bruce Beresford directed film won Best Picture at the Oscars.

 

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The story revolves around their working relationship, taking place in the South from 1948 to 1973, which evolves into an unforgettable friendship. The two start off with much contention since it wasn’t Miss Daisy’s choice to have the diligent Hoke meet her transportation needs. The widowed Jewish woman felt she was still fully capable of getting behind the wheel. After all, she was only going to the Piggly Wiggly every now and then. But when she wrecks her car, her son Boolie (Boyd Gaines, taking on the Dan Aykroyd role) sees there’s a need to hire someone, despite how his mother feels about the situation.

At first, Daisy refuses to accept Hoke’s services, but she eventually relents, realizing the patient man (who had previously worked as a judge’s driver) isn’t going anywhere. As she gives the friendly Hoke a chance, Daisy comes to learn that he is illiterate and since she used to be a schoolteacher, she takes it upon herself to teach him how to read. With Hoke helping out around the house, the unlikely duo become inseparable, connecting on an unsuspecting level neither of them thought they needed.

Granted, there are many who have seen this story on the stage, yet “Driving Miss Daisy” is predominately known because of the movie. It was first a play though, written by Alfred Uhry (who also wrote the screenplay), which is how Freeman first came to the role. Jones also played Hoke before, on Broadway from 2010-11, co-starring with Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy at the time, with Gaines playing Boolie as well.

 

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Anyone who’s seen a theatrical production of a play as well its movie adaptation, knows the differences that can be found in each. A movie can have a broader scope, opening up viewers to various locations and a generally larger cast, but a play can be more intimate. Although it’s the same material, the performances in a play will change slightly each night. A play though has the opportunity to focus on the characters and has the benefit of being unique each night.

That’s exactly what director Esbjornson has captured here by filming this one particular performance. He hasn’t just set-up a camera and recorded the actors from a distance like some high school production. Using several cameras, Esbjornson gets up close, providing us with a chance of seeing the expressions of the cantankerous Lansbury and the enthusiastic Jones, whereas most viewers sitting in a theater wouldn’t be able to get this close. The average audience member in a theatrical production with the talent of this caliber, would probably be able to afford something akin to nosebleed seats.

That is one way to answer the inevitable question of why moviegoers should check out this filmed play, especially if they’re already familiar with the story. I can think of a couple of reasons. One of which is the chance to see a film that focuses on two acting giants in their 80s. You don’t see too many appearances in movies these days from Lansbury and Jones. They could have their own reasons, but let’s face it, there are less roles when actors get older. Affordability is another factor. You might be able to get one theater ticket for the price of a pair of these movie tickets. And for those who feel as if they know everything about “Driving Miss Daisy”, well you really should check out what Lansbury and Jones do with these characters.

Not having seen the film in a long time, I definitely feel like I benefited from seeing this production, especially given the ability to focus up close and personal on the performances here. This cinematic experience is made possible by Broadway Near You, a company with a mission to make great stage plays accessible to as many people as possible. This is the first of hopefully many plays they will come to the big-screen. It could work. Certainly, there’s an audience for everything. Taking a well-known property like “Driving Miss Daisy” with such star power is actually the perfect gateway for a concept like this.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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