Making the Grades
Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) may be getting up in years, but her mind is still sharp enough to know a few things for sure.
The first is that she doesn’t need anyone else handling the car for her, even if she just backed the automobile down the driveway and over the steep retaining wall separating her property from the neighbor’s.
So it is little wonder she protests loudly when her adult son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) takes away her car keys. Nor does she appreciate it when he employs Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) to be her chauffeur, even if the not-much-younger-than-herself black man needs the job. And she is completely aware Hoke is using his best wit and wisdom to coax her into accepting the arrangement. Still, he has a point. Boolie intends to pay Hoke whether or not she uses his services—and such a waste of money offends her frugal sensibilities.
That’s another thing: Miss Daisy is not rich! Despite living in a stately home left by her successful husband, the widow prefers to remember the meager circumstances of her youth. Taking pride in her humble upbringing, she certainly doesn’t want her friends mistaking a hired driver as a sign of wealth.
Lastly, Miss Daisy is definitely without prejudice. Her longstanding relationship with her African American maid (Esther Rolle) is proof of that. As well, she herself is Jewish and has never been ashamed of her heritage. Her broadmindedness even extends to disapproving of Boolie and his wife (Patti LuPone) when they try to ignore their ethnicity in order to climb Atlanta’s social ladder.
Viewers of the movie however, may not be as convinced about Miss Daisy’s ethical beliefs. Watching the evolution of her twenty-year-plus relationship with the humble Hoke, they are more likely to find some wry humor when her actions contradict her assertions. While this may be a subtle approach to exploring some deep issues, there is no shortage of poignancy in the film’s messages about self-perception, aging and discrimination.
Played out against a back drop of the social changes and historical events that occurred in America between the late 1940’s to the early 1970’s, the film establishes the passing of time by using small cues like varying car models (sure to delight auto enthusiasts), license plate dates, creative make-up and careful set design. Coupled with exquisite photography and Academy Award winning performances (both Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy were nominated in the Best Actor/Actress categories—the 80-year-old Tandy took home the Oscar), this quiet adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s stage play is sure to delight mature audiences looking for a thought-provoking ride.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Driving Miss Daisy.
When Miss Daisy and Hoke are first thrown together, they a share a dependency on one another: She needs a driver (whether she admits it or not) and he needs a job. How does their relationship evolve over time? How does the dependency balance shift? Who needs whom more? Do they see each other differently as the years pass? Does Miss Daisy ever change her mind about some of her strong opinions? How are Hoke’s perceptions affected?
At the beginning of the film Miss Daisy appears old, yet she still has many years of life ahead of her. Did this revelation influence the way you look at the elderly? Meanwhile, Hoke is seen as the able-bodied one. Is he much younger than Miss Daisy? At what point does his age catch up with him?
While we learn a lot about Missy Daisy, how much do we know about Hoke’s personal life? Why is it so little? In the end, who do you think feels the most satisfied with their mortality?
Driving Miss Daisy is based on a stage play penned by Alfred Uhry. In 1990 the film received four Academy Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jessica Tandy, the oldest person to ever be nominated or to win the Oscar), Best Make-Up (Manlio Rocchetti, Lynn Barber, Kevin Haney), Best Picture (Richard D. Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alfred Uhry), out of nine nominations. The other categories were: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Dan Aykroyd), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Bruno Rubeo, Crispian Sallis), Best Costume Design (Elizabeth McBride) and Best Film Editing (Mark Warner).