The British comedy “The Driving Seat’s” billed description is a bit of a red herring. Sure, it’s about a middle-aged couple who decide to have sex in a parked car in their own driveway in the morning in broad daylight. True, it’s also about taking risks and trying to put that ’spark’ back in their marriage. It’s filmed in a cramped car that seems entirely too small to allow their plan to unfold without hijinks, and of course it doesn’t. The film is written and directed by Phil Lowe, who makes his directorial debut with this short – and the results are decidedly worth the effort. Less a comedy, but more a humorous slice of life/realization of the things in life that really matter is what audiences find, with positive results.
We’ve seen movies filmed in the confines of a cramped car – Stephen King’s “Cujo” comes to mind – but that filming style (fierce, dangerous, and impactful) is not what we find here. In fact, while we get the impression that this couple’s life takes place in a friendly suburbia where neighbors walk dogs and you know the mailman by first name, cinematographer Adrian Brown keeps the camera taut and focused on the couple, and not the surrounding neighborhood. This film is about their life, their relationship – a very personal thing – and not any of the material trappings that often get supplanted in Hollywood for the idea of a successful marriage.
The actors make this film. There are three – Janie Dee who plays wife Jane, James Lailey who plays husband Martin, and Dennis Herdsman who plays the postman. Dee has quite a few films to her resume, was nominated for ‘Best Actress’ for this particular film at the Houston Comedy Film Festival, and it shows. She’s easily the MVP of this film, a film that starts off with the kind of raunchy noises you might expect to see in mainstream pornography, but which quickly becomes anything but as the couple try to negotiate the awkward feat of having sex in their midget car.
But mind you this film is not about sex, not really, nor is it about a failing marriage where such a risky act is construed as a last ditch effort to save their relationship. It’s about the quintessential idea of love – friendship, attraction, disagreements, and understandings – packed into a film that fills roughly 7 minutes of screen time.
The short is the right genre for this film, and not a second is wasted on superfluous material. I feel the story is developed so well that it could have possibly been produced as a full length film, but Lowe made the right decision with a short. He directs the actors to perfection; and while Dee carries the film, Lailey is pleasing as ever, channeling, in his own quiet and unassuming way, the charm and charisma of British favorite Bill Nighy. The couple go through phases: trying to negotiate their sexual plan, commenting on its trials and hardships, and debriefing, in a kind and loving way, what the event meant for their marriage.
Mainstream films aimed at sex as their operating vehicle – the lacking “No Strings Attached” comes to mind – often fail because sex isn’t the whole picture, just a small part of what makes a relationship work. “The Driving Seat” understands this. When things don’t go according to plan, Martin gets typically defensive, his ego slightly bruised, but the movie doesn’t use this for comedic fodder but for honest and sweet introspection. “I just wanted this to be special,” Martin says, defeated. “Well it wasn’t, was it?” his wife retorts. But what comes next is one of the most touching pieces of dialogue I’ve seen in an indie in some time, and offers an emotional payoff I wasn’t expecting at all.
The dialogue in “The Driving Seat” is glib and cheeky, and that’s it’s greatest asset. Jane and Martin make a great couple; not because they are funny, but because they are real. We like them.
The film concludes in a humorous way, but a humor that comes as a cliff note on the honest and real portrayal of this couple that Lowe and company have invited us into.
A solid film that won awards at three different film festivals, “The Driving Seat” isn’t likely to disappoint. And at 7 minutes in length, it could just brighten your day over your morning cup of coffee or tea.
– by Mark Ziobro