Growing up, my dad would often deal with backseat driving by playfully swerving the car and saying, “Look, I’m driving Miss Daisy, woohoo!” Somehow, this manifested the idea in my small mind that the Academy Award winning film Driving Miss Daisy was a slapstick comedy comparable to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Parents have no idea the weird ideas they put in our heads, but I’m so glad this film did not live up to my childhood expectations.
Driving Miss Daisy is actually a film about an elderly woman in Georgia, who after accidentally backing her car into the brush and then down into the neighbor’s patio (a good six foot drop) is given a personal driver. Daisy (Jessica Tandy) is an extremely high strung woman who will not show her embarrassment over the situation and much less, will not settle for someone to drive her around like she is too rich for her own good. After her son, Boolie (Dan Aykroyd), hires Hoke (Morgan Freeman) to drive his mother around, Daisy avoids Hoke and treats him like an unwanted person in her house. To feel like he is earning the money Boolie pays him, whether he drives Daisy or not, Hoke finds other chores to do around the house, but Daisy always finds some excuse to make Hoke stop.
When Daisy finally has to go to the store, she insists on walking, but Hoke drives alongside her, just in case she wants a ride. What gets her in the car is not the kindness Hoke is showing or tired feet, but a fear of keeping a certain reputation that seems in danger by certain people in a yard ahead. As Daisy finally accepts Hoke, a bond slowly forms between the two.
Over the years, the relationship between Daisy and Hoke becomes a silently acknowledged friendship. Daisy is always careful to keep her warm affections for Hoke at a distance. She gives him a gift just before going to Boolie’s Christmas party, she stresses the fact that she is Jewish and therefore does not give Christmas gifts.
When the two set off for a road trip to Mobil for Daisy’s brother’s ninetieth birthday, it’s quite an eye opening adventure in their friendship. It’s an era where Civil Rights are just starting to stir and a black man driving a white Jewish woman is bound to raise a few brows in Alabama. The fact that Hoke cannot make his own pit stop at the rest areas is stressful when he has to pull over in the middle of the night and leave Daisy alone for a while. It’s here, when she’s alone, in the dark of an area she doesn’t know that she looks so scared, anxious and frail. It’s clear here that they mutually need each other for support.
The art direction of this film is perfectly wonderful in its simplicity. The old cars and the details all over Daisy’s house give us a good sense of time, place and personality. One of my favorite shots is a brief scene in a sun-room full of white wicker furniture. Nowhere but in the mid-twentieth century south, in an elderly woman’s home would I imagine a room full of white wicker furniture to be so lovely and have have so much life. And the makeup to transform these characters over the decades is absolutely remarkable and worth of the Oscar.
So why is Driving Miss Daisy the best picture of 1989? Honestly, it just is. It has a simple, sweet and elegantly told story that perfectly fits the time and place. Tandy, Freeman and Aykroyd are an outstanding and heartwarming ensemble worthy of their Oscar win and nominations. Stories of finding a new and unlikely friendship so late in life are so rare and beautiful that it makes Driving Miss Daisy a film to cherish.
“I taught some of the stupidest children God ever put on the face of this earth and all of them could read well enough to find a name on a tombstone.”