Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd, Patti LuPone, Esther Rolle
The comedy that won a Pulitzer Prize
Won for Best Picture; Best Actress-Jessica Tandy; Best Screenplay; Best Makeup.
Nominated for Best Actor-Morgan Freeman; Best Supporting Actor-Dan Aykroyd; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing.
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Digital Mono
English, French, Spanish
Runtime: 99 min.
Release Date: 2/4/2003
• Audio Commentary from Director Bruce Beresford, Writer Alfred Uhry, and Producer Lili Fini Zanuck
• “Miss Daisy’s Journey: From Stage to Screen” Documentary
• Original Featurette
• “Jessica Tandy: Theatre Legend to Film Star” Featurette
• Cast and Crew
• Theatrical Trailer
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Driving Miss Daisy: Special Edition (1989)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 21, 2003)
In 1990, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences clearly demonstrated why so many people dislike that organization. As John Harkness wrote in my worn and tattered copy of The Academy Awards Handbook, "In the year of Do the Right Thing, Hollywood chose to honor Driving Miss Daisy, an uplifting film about the good old days when blacks were faithful family retainers." In other words, when confronted by a strong, aggressive picture made by an opinionated black filmmaker, Hollywood retreated to the comforts of a well-meaning but paternalistic work shepherded by the white establishment.
Really, it seems unfortunate that another film that dealt with race relations won in place of Thing. The Academy would have taken flack for its failure to acknowledgeThing in any case. However, had something like Field of Dreams won instead, I don't know if the oversight would have appeared as politically charged. As it stood, this decision looked like a serious slap in the face of filmmakers who wanted to say something challenging about current events, and it reinforced why so many see the Academy as a reactionary, backwards institution.
While a competent piece of work, Daisy provided a glaring example of what was wrong with the Hollywood establishment in the late Eighties. Alfred Uhry adapts his own play for the big-screen here, though the film's stage roots still show. Some settings vary - it's not as claustrophobic as something like A Raisin In the Sun, another stage adaptation that spends almost all of its time on the same location - but the action remains very dialogue-intense and event-poor. Granted, Daisy doesn't open up opportunities for vivid displays akin to those in Henry V, but I think it could have broadened its horizons to a greater degree.
In any case, the movie concentrates on Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy), an aging white woman whose son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) hires a chauffeur for her when it becomes apparent her motor skills gave deteriorated. Miss Daisy accepts the presence of black driver Hoke (Morgan Freeman) reluctantly, but they slowly become friends and longtime companions, though not in the sense the gay community uses the phrase.
This sort of heartwarming piece is supposed to make all of us feel good about relationships between the races, and to a degree, it does. There's certainly nothing overtly wrong with the movie. Not a whole lot happens in it; it starts in the late Forties, and we follow Miss Daisy and Hoke for a period of about 25 years. They drive around together, they chat a lot, they appear to like each other – end of movie. Perhaps that's typical of real life, but I couldn't help but wish for something to actually happen; small changes occur along the way, and Miss Daisy gradually loses her mildly-racist tendencies, but nothing else of note occurs.
The civil rights movement receives some lip service, and Miss Daisy actually attends a dinner at which Martin Luther King speaks, but those events remain tangential to the plot at best. There's little to stir one up here; even when some obviously racist cops confront the pair, the worst thing one of the officers utters is to call Hoke "boy", and any implied threat dissipates incredibly rapidly.
Frankly, I feel uncertain as to what the actual point of Daisy was. Oh, I'm sure it was made in that liberal "let's all get along" spirit, and that's great, but I seriously doubt it influenced anyone's opinions of other races. If anything, it could easily work in a negative way, as the film represents a time during which blacks "knew their places"; absolutely no one challenges the system in this film, as all of the blacks are quite content. Of course they are - Boolie and Miss Daisy treat them quite well, and Boolie continues to pay Hoke's salary well after his driving days have ended.
Unfortunately, that kind of person was the extreme exception in that period, and some may take the mistaken notion that Daisy offers a representation that accurately displays the historical record. It doesn't, and that's what makes its message somewhat insidious. It says that if blacks just pipe down and drive around us white folk, we'll take good care of them and everyone'll be happy.
Yes, Daisy pays some lip service to progress, through the semi-presence of Dr. King and also through Hoke's mention that his daughter teaches at Spelman College. However, the movie as a whole stands as an homage to the status quo, but not today's; no, it goes back decades to find a "better time".
Do I think the filmmakers consciously meant to show such a backwards and dated view of race relations? No, I expect they thought they were creating a nice little tale that shows how race doesn't matter when two people openly deal with each other, and that's true. Granted, there's not a whole lot of development in Miss Daisy - she wasn't exactly a card-carrying member of the
Klan from the start - but some positives can be taken from her growth.
I remain convinced that these negatives outweigh these, however. I find it striking to note that A Raisin In the Sun predates Daisy by 28 years but offers a much more realistic view of "the black experience". Racism provides such a profoundly minor component of Daisy that I can't imagine what the filmmakers were thinking.
I also am not sure why a great talent like Morgan Freeman signed on for a borderline-demeaning role like Hoke. I adore Freeman and think he adds immeasurably to virtually every part he plays - except here. His portrayal of Hoke may be historically accurate, as it'd be incorrect to show such a character as well spoken and literate. However, I couldn't help but cringe at times, such as when he uttered, "I'm tryin' to drive you to de sto'!" Freeman's inherent dignity comes through in the character at times, and he actually seems a little too strong for the role; Freeman is such a powerful presence that I found it hard to accept Hoke as such a bland but good-natured servant. As much as I bemoan the fact that a great actor like Freeman has yet to snag an Oscar, I'm glad he didn't get one for his work as Hoke; when his time comes, he should gain that honor for a better character.
Tandy did win an Oscar for her portrayal of Miss Daisy, an occurrence that seems closely connected to her advanced age, her lack of prior victories, and the weak field that year. Overall, Tandy provides perfectly acceptable work in the role, but the part lacks any challenges, and it seems a stretch to consider her performance as Oscar-caliber. She does pull off her Southern accent unusually well, however.
As Boolie - why must all movies about the South always include characters with such asinine names? - Aykroyd became the first cast member of Saturday Night Live to receive an Oscar nomination. This occurred despite the fact Aykroyd's not very good in the role. He seems okay, I guess, but I thought little personality or emotion came through in his performance. Boolie never seemed like anything more than just another Aykroyd character to me; he's nothing more than an accent with a little corn-pone attitude.
Historical footnote: Aykroyd remains the only person from the original crew of SNL to be so honored, though later performers like Joan Cusack and Robert Downey Jr. have also been nominated. To date, none have won an Oscar. Actually, Randy Quaid earned the earliest Oscar nomination of any SNL performer, but since that nod predated his stint on the show by more than a decade, I don't think it should count.
Personal footnote: my favorite thing about Daisy comes from my memories. I worked at a restaurant for a decade as I went through high school, college and grad school. Originally from Germany, Ellie long worked as a waitress there, and she always referred to the actress as "Jessica Dandy" and the film as Riding Miss Daisy. Perhaps you had to be there, but these thoughts still entertain me.
Those remain my most positive associations with Driving Miss Daisy. As a film, it offers a well-constructed but plodding piece of piffle. The craftsmanship bears no overt flaws, but it doesn't do anything to excite or stimulate either. My problems with it relate to the movie's politics, which seem backwards, to say the least. I found the picture to provide a rather distasteful mix of paternalism and reactionary sentiment, and I don't think it serves a positive purpose.
Footnote: Daisy marks only the third time in Oscar history when a movie won Best Picture although its director didn’t receive a nomination for Best Director. To find the two prior examples, you have to go way back into Oscar’s very early history. For 1931-1932, Grand Hotel took home Best Picture without a Best Director nomination for Edmund Goulding. However, only three directors received nods that time, even though seven Best Picture nominees occurred. In addition, first Best Picture winner Wings from 1927 also didn’t get a mention for William A. Wellman. Given the nascent nature of the Oscars in those days, these anomalies don’t seem all that strange, whereas the failure for Beresford to get a nomination for Daisy seems bizarre.
The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio C+ / Bonus B
Driving Miss Daisy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new disc improved the quality of the original release, and not just because that version only included a fullscreen picture. However, too many problems appeared on the widescreen edition for fans to anticipate anything special here.
For the most part, Daisy looked quite good. Sharpness appeared a little loose at times, but that seemed intentional, as the movie went for a gently soft period image. Overall, the picture remained reasonably distinct and accurate, and I noticed no signs of genuine fuzziness. Unlike the old release, jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I saw a slight amount of light edge enhancement
Daisy presented a fairly subdued and natural palette that came across well on this DVD. The daylight exteriors seemed warm and vibrant, and other tones also appeared clean and concise. Not much about the hues stood out, but they seemed satisfying. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail usually was clear and appropriately opaque. A few low-light interiors looked slightly thick, but most of them were solid.
Where Daisy fell to a “B-“ related to print flaws. Though not terribly messy, the picture displayed more than its fair share of defects, especially given its age. A 13-year-old movie shouldn’t seem this dirty. Unfortunately, the image suffered from quite a few specks and other marks such as grit, nicks, and small hairs. Grain seemed a bit excessive at times as well. The picture cleaned up moderately as it progressed; most of the most flawed sequences appeared during its first half. Nonetheless, it remained more problematic than I’d like. In the end, Driving Miss Daisy usually presented a fairly solid image, but it lost a lot of points due to the print concerns.
Still, at least the visuals improved upon those of the original DVD. The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Driving Miss Daisy seemed identical to that of the old release. The audio lacked much ambition in its soundfield, but since Daisy was adapted from a stage production, that shouldn't be a surprise; this kind of movie could easily get by with monaural sound. While the soundfield didn’t seem quite that restricted, it came close. Most of the sound stayed firmly the center channel, though music and some effects gently branched out into the front side speakers at times. Some material - usually cars driving - even presented light panning. As for the surrounds, they provided gentle reinforcement of the music and effects, though not much came from the rear speakers.
Quality seemed perfectly fine. Dialogue appeared clear and natural, with no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects stayed very subdued; probably the loudest sound came from Miss Daisy's car crash early in the film, and even that remained mild. However, these appeared clean and reasonably realistic. The score sounded smooth and adequately bright. There was little low-end to be found, but the film afforded little opportunity for noticeable bass. This really was a "talky" movie that included only modest opportunities for audio outside of that realm. For what it offered, Driving Miss Daisy sounded fine.
So far comparisons between the original DVD and this new special edition show moderate improvements in picture quality and seemingly identical soundtracks. Driving Miss Daisy marks an upgrade in one other department: supplements. The old release provided almost no extras, but the reissue tosses in a moderate roster of features. We start with an audio commentary from director Bruce Beresford, writer Alfred Uhry, and producer Lili Fini Zanuck, all of whom sat separately for this edited, occasionally screen-specific piece; at times we got some notes that directly related to the action as it occurred, but mostly the information didn’t really connect to the movie as it ran.
That seemed fine with me, as the material gave us a very nice look at the movie. Uhry dominated the commentary, and surprisingly, Beresford barely appeared; he spoke only a handful of times throughout the flick, as he offered some basic comments about his involvement in the movie and a couple of other issues. Zanuck provided some good information about the challenges involved in the production, while Uhry delivered a lot of very useful notes, most of which revolved around the facts behind the fiction. The writer based the movie on the later life experiences of his grandmother, and his comments helped give us a nice background for the story. Uhry also related many other solid tidbits about the project. Overall, the commentary seemed consistently lively and engaging, and it actively added to my understanding of the film.
Next we move to three separate video programs. Jessica Tandy: Theatre Legend to Screen Star pays tribute to the late actress. It includes clips from the movie, a few shots from the set, and interviews with director Jon Avnet, actress Frances Sternhagen, Uhry, Beresford, and Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck. The six-minute and 40-second piece doesn’t offer much. It plays way too many snippets from the film, and the participants mostly just tell us how wonderful Tandy was. Some of the behind the scenes bits seem interesting, but otherwise “Legend” comes across as dull.
Matters don’t much improve with the six-minute and 13-second original featurette. This uses the same format as “Legend” and includes circa 1989 remarks from Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Beresford and Alfred Uhry. Once again, we find zillions of film snippets along with a little decent behind the scenes footage. The interviews tend to sound bland and generic, and the featurette mostly feels like an extended trailer.
Happily, the final video program actually offers some decent information. Miss Daisy’s Journey: From Stage to Screen runs 18 minutes and 32 seconds. While it shows some movie pieces and behind the scenes materials, it mostly focuses on the interviews; we hear from Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck, Alfred Uhry, Bruce Beresford, make-up artists Lynn Barber and Kevin Haney, production designer Bruno Rubeo, and composer Hans Zimmer. Though much of the material seems redundant after the commentary, “Journey” provides a nice synopsis of the filmmaking experience, and the inclusion of the folks who don’t appear elsewhere on the DVD makes it more useful. “Journey” remains a basic documentary, but it works reasonably well nonetheless.
After this, a few rudimentary features finish the DVD. Cast and Crew includes filmographies for actors Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, and Dan Aykroyd, writer Alfred Uhry, and director Bruce Beresford. Awards simply lists some of the honors accorded Daisy, and we also find the movie’s trailer, which appears anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby 2.0 sound.
One of the weaker flicks ever to win the Best Picture Oscar, Driving Miss Daisy appears anachronistic and ordinary. The film actually becomes mildly entertaining at times, but it lacks much to make it truly compelling, and I dislike its sentimental treatment of the "good old days". The DVD provides a decent but somewhat dirty image with adequate sound and a small but moderately satisfying list of supplements headed by a very good audio commentary.
My moderate disdain for Driving Miss Daisy means I can’t issue a recommendation for the film to anyone who doesn’t already know they like it. Those folks will likely feel pleased with the new DVD; the picture quality remains somewhat lackluster, but the overall presentation seems decent. As for those who already own the old DVD, they’ll likely want to upgrade to the new one. Again, the problems with the image make a repurchase somewhat questionable, but the picture does consistently improve on the original release, and it now appears in its theatrical aspect ratio. Add to that a fairly positive roster of new supplements combined with a relatively low list price of less than $20 and Daisy lovers should seek out the special edition.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5333 Stars
| Number of Votes: 30