Driving Miss Daisy is a drama with comic elements, centering around the relationship between a wealthy Southern woman and her driver, hired to help her after she becomes unable to drive. Through telling a story of just two people, the movie addresses issues of class and race relations, aging, and the nature of friendship.
The other Best Picture nominees that year were Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot. In addition to Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy also won Best Actress in a Leading Role (Tandy), Best Makeup, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
The "Miss Daisy" of the title is Daisy Werthan, a wealthy, independent, Jewish Atlantan who is reluctant to face the fact that she is no longer safe on the road. But when her son, Boolie (Dan Aykroyd), hires a driver for her, she reluctantly agrees to use his services.
For his part, the driver, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), is just as strong willed, insisting on doing the job he was hired to do, despite Miss Daisy's protests. While she is initially thorny and reserved, she eventually warms up to Hoke, and they develop a rapport.
While Miss Daisy lives a privileged life, it is a stunningly empty one. Aside from her son and some bridge companions, she spends most of her days in seclusion. The implication is that Hoke is not the first person to whom she's been reserved, and that attitude has pushed most possible acquaintances away.
Despite living in her privileged, protected environment, Miss Daisy still considers herself to be forward-thinking for the time, the late 1960s. She supports civil rights on the surface and yet often unconsciously treats Hoke in ways that demonstrate her inability to part totally from old racial notions. Morgan Freeman does a skillful job of reacting to these moments with a mixture of disappointment and understanding. Much like Miss Daisy's life has been one of pushing people away, it's implied that Hoke's life has been filled with misunderstandings and slights.
The relationship that forms between these two characters is rich and textured, with much of it occurring beneath the surface. Overtly, their relationship is that of employer and employee, and yet they clearly grow to care about, and even depend upon, each other. It is a mark of the skill of both Freeman and Tandy that they manage to convey the subtext effectively.
Not surprisingly, Driving Miss Daisy was based on a play, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1988. Author Alfred Uhry based the story of Daisy and Hoke on his own grandmother, Lena Fox, and her chauffeur, Will Coleman. In the "making of" documentary on the DVD, he revealed that his grandmother was similarly reluctant to accept the services of a driver. He said that he tried to capture the nature of their relationship without making it too didactic about the essential themes. Director Beresford said that he strived to open the world of the play without losing the central focus on the main characters. Both achieved their goals.
While the story is primarily about this relationship, everything about this production serves the film. The score by Hans Zimmer was based on his impressions of viewing a scene of Miss Daisy walking to the grocery store while Hoke follows in a car. The determined, brisk but delicate melody that sprung into Zimmer's mind became the theme for the picture.
Likewise, careful attention was played to sets, costumes and locations to create a feeling of 1960s Atlanta.
Ultimately, though, this story is about two people and how their relationship grows, in the face of the many things that separate them. And that story alone, especially enacted by these two acclaimed performers, is compelling.
Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Sometimes those who become most important are those we strive to push away.