Learning To Drive is a movie that is presented as a “romantic comedy” but is in reality a serious drama about relationship and life issues in which the major characters all have some learning and growing to do.
The action starts when Clarkson’s character, Wendy, a literary critic seen later in the picture weighing in on a panel discussion in a radio station studio, and there unknowingly endorsing the work of her romantic rival, has a relationship-ending fight with her unfaithful husband in the back seat of a cab driven by Ben Kingsley, playing middle-aged, dignified Sikh Darwan Singh. Wendy accidentally leaves an important manuscript in the taxi. Singh returns the missing manuscript, and having arrived at her townhouse in the car belonging to the driving school for which he works by day, while driving a cab by night, starts a dialogue with her by virtue of this fact. Having seen the vehicle with driving school signage, she told him of her need to learn to drive occasioned by the failed relationship, the fallout of which also includes the impending loss of her residence, and the prospect of a trip and long-term stay in Vermont, for which her college-age, organic-farming daughter told her she needed to learn to drive. The movie is also a look at the lives of two very different socioeconomic and ethnic classes who co-exist in the city, yet live in different worlds. Wendy is so white she is almost transparent, lives in an impossibly large apartment, and as the divorce moves forward, her sister, a married WASP woman resident in a (presumably) largish house in Connecticut, a living cliche, fixes her up with an impossibly rich banker (for mega money attracts mega money) who is so sought-after as a youngish middle-aged white man with a prestigious job and mucho dinero that she chides her sister for her reluctance to engage in potential intimacy with him. (Both end up reluctantly having sexual intercourse with individuals they hardly know, let alone connect to on the same level in which each interacts with the other, one of the most unromantic things to be seen.)
In Singh’s parallel life, he works two jobs to afford a much less prestigious (and potentially illegal) apartment with illegal immigrant housemates in Queens. He reluctantly agrees to an arranged marriage with a bride he never sees before the wedding.
A lovely wedding dress for the bride and a look at the Sikh temple in Queens are a feast for eyes hungering for the reverent as well as the exotic. Both experience issues with their respective relationships with the partners their respective societies have effectively chosen for them, but though both connect with one another on a human and personal level, in a non-traditional twist on the standard modern romantic movie, they do not end up with one another romantically. Perhaps the class, monetary, and ethnic barriers are too high to scale.
In any event, two initially unattached adults of opposite sexes who learn to understand and respect one another part company for different destinies. Darwan improves his relationship with his wife after she is compelled to venture to the local shops for sanitary napkins, and ends up meeting other Sikh and Indian women who are more assimilated and give her a circle of friends; while having absorbed Darwan’s tutelage, Wendy successfully drives to Vermont.