The Bottom Line
If learning to drive were actually this tedious, more people might give the whole thing a pass.
South by Southwest Film Festival
Three expats face the dilemma of relearning the rules of the road all over again after relocating overseas and developing a determination to drive. Lacking the universal appeal and humor that first-time feature doc-maker Andrea Thiele apparently expected from her own personal experience, the film’s most likely destinations are receptive film festivals and Euro pubcasters.
Mirela is a would-be fashion designer living in Mumbai and frustrated by the limited and marginally reliable transportation options available to her as a foreigner. Jake, an American English teacher working in Tokyo, misses the spontaneity of having his own car and balks at the rigidity of public transportation schedules. Hye-won is a South Korean music student and homemaker who followed her husband on a work assignment to Munich, along with their moody young toddler, and now yearns for the freedom and convenience afforded by a private vehicle, despite her sketchy driving record back home.
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All three quickly learn that their domestic licenses mean nothing in their new locales and must make arrangements for driving lessons and test preparation. Jake faces such a massive wall of bureaucracy that he’s forced to consult a local fixer to help him pair up with a driving instructor and troubleshoot the tricky exam requirements. In contrast, Mirela discovers that Mumbai’s disconcertingly informal training system throws her directly into the fray, learning to drive on chaotic city streets. Even with a decent command of German and a caring, patient instructor, Hye-won has trouble overcoming her innate self-doubts and fears for her safety.
While it’s a given that beyond testing acumen and technical proficiency, a degree of acculturation will be required on the part of each driver to eventually obtain a license, they all approach their dilemmas differently. Mirela acts impatient and snarky, which mostly provokes tolerant amusement from her instructors. Jake’s stubbornness convinces his trainer that his attitude is so poor he’s unlikely to pass the exam, while Hye-won’s timidity constantly saps the motivation she’ll need to even prepare for her test.
Similar, familiar situations, repetitive scenes and a shortage of significant subplots rapidly drain momentum from the film after the first act sets up the interlocked narratives. Apparently selected primarily for their situations rather than their distinctive individuality, the subjects are neither particularly interesting nor are their motivations especially compelling. Thiele demonstrates adequate expertise with camerawork, but the HD format only renders the uneventful scenes even more mundane. Although mining thin veins of humor throughout the film, her apparent lack of spontaneity rarely delivers any surprises.