Driving Miss Daisy: Why Did This One Win, Again?

I have fears about getting older. This is normal, I think. To me it has to do with the fear of the unknown. One of these fears is not being able to take care of myself. I’m sure that all my readers have seen an older loved one be resigned to a wheel chair or to a long-term care facility where they can no longer take care of themselves. These things happen, but they don’t have to be easy.

Driving Miss Daisy, the 1989 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, shows this natural aging process over the course of 25 years. The story follows Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) and her driver Hoke (Morgan Freeman) as they bond over the years after she’s declared unfit to drive by an insurance company.

As I’ve gone through this blog, I’ve discovered that movies I hated (Annie Hall) and movies that I’ve loved (Gandhi, Kramer vs. Kramer) are way easier to write about than movies that make me go, “meh.” That’s what Driving Miss Daisy is to me. It is a movie. That’s about it. But like Annie Hall, it did a lot of things very well, so the score will be higher than it should be.

It’s worth mentioning that Driving Miss Daisy is pretty damned racist. Daisy always says that she’s not prejudiced, yet she always refers to her African American servants as “they” or “them,” particularly when she accuses Hoke of stealing a can of salmon. Daisy drips racism that she does absolutely nothing to change that or identify with her African American workers throughout the course of the film. The only understanding gained between the races is only after decades of servitude.

Now for the review:

Plot

The plot for Driving Miss Daisy is very simple: and older man drives a rich, older woman around town (and even the southeastern United States) until the driver is too old to drive. All of this comes about after Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) is declared unfit to drive by an unnamed insurance company following an accident. Her son, Boolie (Dan Akroyd) hires Hoke, a long-time professional driver, to take his mother around.

Miss Daisy hates it at first, preferring to take the street car where she needs to go. Sooner or later, though, she comes around and the two become an unlikely pair of friends.

From the beginning, this plot was predictable and mostly terrible. Miss Daisy is an extraordinarily bitter Jewess who I hated throughout the movie. Hoke is very patient with her, though, but she never loses her attitude. She remains a cranky old bat throughout and is incredibly hard to deal with.

Throughout the first 75 minutes of Driving Miss Daisy’s 105-minute run-time, the plot is a snooze-fest full of cliches and horrible prejudice. The final 30 minutes, though, is where the story gets incredibly real, bringing all the strife of the 1960s American south into the plot. I was very engaged here. But that was not enough to save Driving Miss Daisy. Imagine watching a sinking ship sink more slowly towards the end but still sinking anyway. 0.

Writing/Dialogue

Driving Miss Daisy remains as the only Best Picture winner based off a play, Alfred Uhry’s play of the same name. He also wrote the screenplay which won him the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Even though I might not like the plot, the screenplay a number of things going for it.

The script has its thumb on the south and southern dialect. Riddled throughout the lines are words like “y’all” and phrases like “fixin’ to.” The script is true to its time and setting (1940s-1960s American south) or what I believe it would sound like. 1.

Sound

Hans Zimmer did the music for Driving Miss Daisy. In general, it’s very happy and upbeat. There aren’t a lot of uses for a highly dramatic musical element, though.

At one point in the movie, Daisy accuses Hoke of stealing a can of salmon from her. When she reveals the can in question, the music is suddenly dark and dramatic. Compared to the otherwise light tone of the film, this sequence seemed very melodramatic and I didn’t care for it.

On the sound effect side, Driving Miss Daisy does everything well, plenty of ambient noise for the different situations. One particularly good use of sound came to us through Martin Luther King, Jr. Late in the movie, Miss Daisy goes to see MLK at an event in town. She loves him and believes that the change he’s trying to inspire is terrific. But rather than having an actor play MLK, we never actually see him on-screen. Instead, it’s audio from one of his speeches which only adds to the realism. 1.

Set Design

Driving Miss Daisy takes place throughout the late 1940s, the 1950s and the early 1960s. Each of these decades has its own differences from one another. This is not only true with what the actors wear, but also the physical spaces within which the actors perform. Adapting to these changes takes tremendous skill and a wide latitude of knowledge about the times.

One of the challenges of Driving Miss Daisy is how much of the movie takes place in a car. These aren’t lavish rides either: a 1940s red Hudson, a 1950s Cadillac, etc. A car is not really a complicated set but it really works in this movie. Whether the actors were in an actual car or not, these simple sets were incredibly effective.

Finally, Driving Miss Daisy won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Daisy and Hoke age throughout the movie, but Tandy and Freeman do not. Aging an actor takes a lot of skill in the makeup department. 1.

Cinematography

Peter James was Driving Miss Daisy’s director of photography. Every movie since Around the World in 80 Days has had a cinematography style that was simple, yet effective. I’m starting to find a pattern here.

Anyway, Driving Miss Daisy is certainly no exception. It felt like a more modern movie, that we are used to seeing on the big screen now, with several camera movements. The camera was often on a dolly or it panned from a stationary point. This makes sense to me; the movie is about driving. So, why not have your camera follow the driving car?

One element that was interesting about this movie was the “glow” that everything had. It’s difficult to describe but think about a shining a flashlight through fog. You not only see the beam of light, but the surrounding particles reflect light. I’m sure this was done on purpose, though. This glow helped to enhance the brightness of whatever the light happened to be on and made the movie feel “warmer.” 1.

Acting

There are two principle actors in Driving Miss Daisy: Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Dan Aykroyd  was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role and Boolie.

Jessica Tandy (Daisy Werthan) I mentioned above that Daisy Werthan, or Miss Daisy has Hoke always called her, was a pretty bitter and all-around terrible person in my eyes. Well, if playing a bitter old hag was Jessica Tandy’s goal in this movie, then she hit the nail right on the head. Her performance was magnetic and perfect in all phases. There were times, however, in which she could be charming and others in which she was outspoken and mean. If I knew her, I’d probably regret having been her acquaintance.

But, that’s okay. She nailed the role. Her performance garnered her a Best Actress award and, at the age of 81, she is still the oldest person to have won that particular award.

Morgan Freeman (Hoke Colburn) I’ve always loved Morgan Freeman. His voice is that of angels and his acting has always been on par. When I think of Freeman, though, I always go back to his Oscar-nominated role as Ellis “Red” Redding in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. But this role is the complete opposite of that one and it shows his depth as an actor.

Hoke is a very patient man, always putting on a smile with a happy-go-lucky demeanor. He’s illiterate but he’s certainly no fool. Throughout the film, Hoke has to face racism and other prejudice because of the color of his skin. This movie takes place in Atlanta, after all. But he handles all of them with grace and class.

Freeman’s performance earned him a Best Actor nomination, one that was well-deserved. 1.

Directing

Bruce Beresford directed Driving Miss Daisy and his efforts did not earn him a Best Director nomination. This was the third time that the Best Picture winner did not have a Best Director nomination. But it’s not hard to see why.

Driving Miss Daisy is very simple, creatively speaking. No frills and nothing that engaged me, which isn’t good. It has a mostly uninteresting plot with a character in Daisy who is too mean and too bitter. The southern charm in this movie is too overdone and gets annoying by the end of the film.

One theme that I noticed in the movie is glamorizing the past. We all do it; we all feel some tenderness to the past of past experiences even though we had the same worries then as we do now. But too often in this movie are the characters caught looking back in the past and realizing how great those times were. While this happens, this annoys me, and it would be the same movie without this recurrent theme. 0.

Bonus Points

None.

Final Score: 5/10

Oscar Facts

Driving Miss Daisy won the 62nd Academy Award for Best Picture on March 26, 1990 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles. It beat Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams and My Left Foot. Driving Miss Daisy had the most nominations and the most awards on the night with nine nominations and four awards. The Best Picture Oscar was presented by Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. Driving Miss Daisy took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium and Best Makeup.

Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three Best Actor Oscars for My Left Foot. Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory and Brenda Fricker received Best Supporting Actress for My Left Foot.

Next Week

My next review is Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Last Emperor the 60th winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Following that, it’s The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, Terms of Endearment, Titanic and then the first of two of Frank Capra’s Best Picture winners, It Happened One Night.

6 Comments

  1. Well, I haven’t seen this movie and after reading your review I don’t want to. I don’t care to see racism or surly folks so definitely shouldn’t watch it. But I too love Morgan Freeman, so IF I watched it that would be the only reason why! Thanks for another great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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