A simple, quiet and marvelously acted piece, "Driving Miss Daisy", offers the story of a friendship between an older woman (Jessica Tandy) and her chauffeur (Morgan Freeman). The film starts off with the older woman getting her new car into an accident, but one only inches away from the house: she backs her car up and over into the neighbor's front lawn. Her son (Dan Ackroyd) decides that it's the right time for her to have a chauffeur instead of handling the driving herself.
While the two originally dislike each other (although he shows remarkable patience with her), eventually they start to come to an understanding and friendship eventually follows. Obviously, she's displeased with the new barriers on her former freedom to go and do as she pleases, but as the years pass, they find out more about each other and the bond between the two strengthens.
Although I've disliked the last couple of films from director Bruce Beresford ("Double Jeopardy", "Bride of the Wind"), he does just about everything right here. The film's 99 minute running time allows for characters to be developed wonderfully, but the film also gets to the point, as the tight pacing and compelling characters make the film seem brisk and quick. In a time where most movies seem too long for their own good, I easily could have spent more time with these characters. In addition, the way that the film explores issues like race and class is intelligent and good-hearted, while the film's mixture of emotional moments and warm humor is wonderfully played; this film certainly is never "sappy".
The performances are also award-worthy, although maybe not the best from either. With the focus on the two leads, the film develops their characters wonderfully, but Dan Ackroyd also offers a terrific performance as Daisy's son.
VIDEO: Warner Home Video has prepared a new transfer for this edition of "Driving Miss Daisy". While the original release offered only a 1.33:1 pan & scan presentation, this new DVD edition offers the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally good and, flaws aside, is about the best that the film has probably looked outside of theaters. Sharpness and detail still are iffy, as the picture's soft focus leads to an almost hazy look at times, complete with a lack of fine detail. This is not a constant problem, as sharpness and definition vary, but softer scenes are noticably soft.
The picture, which is now over 10 years of age, does also show a few more flaws than I'd expected. Positive comment first: the picture lacks any edge enhancement, making for a natural and film-like image. However, the print used does show a bit of dirt at times, with specks and the occasional mark showing up in several scenes throughout the film.
The film's warm color palette is very well-rendered, with nice saturation and no smearing or other faults. Overall, this is a fine presentation that, while flawed in some aspects, is satisfactory overall.
SOUND: While Warner Brothers has remastered the picture quality for this new DVD edition, the soundtrack seems to be the same 2.0 presentation, instead of a new 5.1 track. While this is a dialogue-driven movie, there still is the pleasant score and some occasional background ambience. Audio quality is pleasant, as dialogue remained crisp and clear, as did Hans Zimmer's superb score.
EXTRAS: The DVD's main supplement is an audio commentary from novelist/screenwriter Alfred Uhry, producer Lili Fini Zanuck and director Bruce Beresford. All three of the participants seem to have been recorded separately, but the track has been edited together quite nicely. All three provide an interesting perspective on the making of the film, as Uhry talks about the reality behind the story, his thoughts on adapting the play into a screenplay and his opinions on the final film. Zanuck and Beresford mostly discuss casting and what it was like to work with these two amazing actors. Although Uhry's comments are certainly a highlight, another reason to listen to this track is to hear the filmmaker's insightful discussion of trying to shoot quickly on a small budget.
Jessica Tandy: From Stage to Screen: This is a lovely documentary that pays tribute to the career of star Jessica Tandy, as the filmmakers recall what it was like to work with this marvelous actress. This featurette is fairly short, but it offers fine insight, history and heart. Also included are a very well-done new 18-minute "making of" featurette, the original promotional featurette, awards text and the film's trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Driving Miss Daisy" is a touching, funny and beautifully acted picture that remains compelling throughout its too-short running time. Warner Brothers has put together a respectable new DVD edition, with fine video quality, pleasant audio and solid supplements. Recommended.
The Film ****