Driving Miss Daisy is something of a divisive film. It's a rather slow-moving tale, directly taken from a play, about twenty years in the life of an elderly prejudiced woman, played by Jessica Tandy, who grows to bond with her African-American car driver, played by Morgan Freeman. It's divisive because of its selection as Best Picture at the 1990 Academy Awards, a choice that left many (including myself) stinging. But we'll get to that in a minute.

The film stars, as noted above, Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, and the film revolves around their two characters. It was produced by Warner Bros. and distributed by Warner Bros. in the United States and Transmundo abroad. The film totals an hour and thirty nine minutes in length. It was directed by Bruce Beresford and based on a play by Alfred Uhry, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation (he didn't change much).

Jessica Tandy plays Daisy, an elderly Jewish widow living in Atlanta. In her advanced age she can no longer drive, so her son (played by Dan Aykroyd) insists she allow him to hire a driver. In the south in the 1950s, a "driver" meant a black man. She deeply resists the change but the driver, Hoke (Morgan Freeman), is hired by her son anyway. Daisy refuses to allow him to drive her anywhere at first, but Hoke slowly wins her over with his native charm and grace, and they grow to be friends over the course of twenty years.

Although this film is quite good for what it is (and the acting is unquestionably fantastic), it has many flaws. The biggest one is the fact that it comes off as though it were a play being filmed for theatrical release. If this were a play, I would be flabbergasted and would loudly applaud it, but without any interesting use of the medium of film, it instead becomes much less interesting. Hurting it again is the very slow pace of the script; all ninety-nine minutes revolve around a growing friendship. It is portrayed very well, but many times you find yourself anxious, waiting for the characters to grow. Daisy is the only one that really does throughout the whole film.

It is a pleasant period piece; the scenery is quite nice (what you can see of it anyway; much of it is seen out of the back and side windows of the car the two ride around in). It's also interesting to see how prejudice is so deep-seeded in Daisy, but at heart she isn't really prejudiced at all; it's much more of a product of the world she grew up in.

Still, when it came time for the Academy Awards, it was my least favorite pick for Best Picture, and many others, too. There was a sense that it might win, carried by the fantastic acting of Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, but the other nominations, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, were all equally or more fantastic (mostly because their scripts were light years better). The other nominees were Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot; I felt that of the five, Driving Miss Daisy was noticeably the weakest and I wasn't alone in this respect. I mean, the field was so strong that Glory, perhaps the best American war movie ever made, missed the cut. Of course, it went on to dominate the award show.

The film won best screenplay adaptation (which surprised me and many others), best makeup, best actress (Jessica Tandy), and best picture, and was nominated for five others. It also won the three Golden Globes it was nominated for. Morgan Freeman lost the best actor nod to Daniel Day Lewis for his role in My Left Foot (which, honestly, was the one I thought should have won best picture).

The awarding of best picture to this film was the strongest sign for many that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was out of touch with modern movie-making, and the backlash of bad publicity and letter-writing improved the awards somewhat later in the 1990s. For instance, the nominations of The Crying Game and Babe for best picture are a symbol of the Academy's broadening horizons in recent years.

Still, Driving Miss Daisy is a very nice but simple movie that is often scorned as a symbol of movie awards out of touch with their audience. Watch it if for nothing but the gorgeous scenery and the always good acting from Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.

The actors view this (Daisy) as a love story, although obviously not like Romeo and Juliet. These were two people (Daisy and Hoke) who came to love each other and had no means at all of telling each other.
Alfred Uhry, in a 1987 New York Times interview.
Driving Miss Daisy is based on the real-life relationship of playwright's Alfred Uhry’s elderly Jewish grandmother and the African-american man who was her chaffeur. The action takes place in and around Atlanta, Georgia, from 1948 to 1973.

Driving Miss Daisy played 80 performances at its original home, Playwrights’ Horizons, and then ran for 1,219 performances Off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theater with Morgan Freeman and Dana Ivey in the lead roles. Both won Obie awards for their acting. The play also won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and 3 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, Outstanding Performance by an Actress (Dana Ivey), and Outstanding Direction (Ron Lagomarsino). Not bad for Uhry’s first attempt at drama (Before this time, he was known only as a Broadway lyricist and librettist, and songwriting teacher at NYU).

Two significant differences between the play and the film:

  1. On stage, Hoke and Miss Daisy’s driving scenes take place in an imaginary car, which the audience never sees.
  2. A scene which helps to set the social context of the story does not appear in the play, but only in the film: two Alabama policemen interrupt a roadside picnic and demand to see Hoke's driver's license, and Miss Daisy's car registration, and declare that it is a "sorry sight" to see a "nigger" and an "old Jew lady" riding together.

Sources:
Martin Andrucki, "Driving Miss Daisy: A Study Guide," The Public Theatre,Winter 1994, <http://www.thepublictheatre.org/msdaisy.htm> (25 October 2001)
"Alfred Uhry," Hollywood.com, 1999-2001, <http://www.hollywood.com/celebs/bio/celeb/344274> (25 October 2001)

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