‘Learning to Drive’: Sweet nature with a light touch

Neither sentimental nor cynical, “Learning to Drive” reveals a keen eye for human behavior in its depiction of a meaningful friendship that develops between two lost souls.

Ever-intriguing Patricia Clarkson plays book critic Wendy, whose husband of 21 years, Ted (Jake Weber), has dumped her for another woman. She leaves a manuscript in Darwan’s cab, so the responsible Sikh (Ben Kingsley) returns it.

He teaches driving during the day. Taking baby steps toward independence, the firmly entrenched Manhattanite decides to take lessons from him. Thus begins an opportunity for life lessons and a chance to understand a different culture as they spend time in close quarters.

Ben Kingsley is masterful at leaning in, and he immerses himself into portraying a devout immigrant, previously persecuted in his country, whose life in America hasn’t been smooth. He is preparing for an arranged marriage with Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury).

Clarkson isn’t afraid to show cracks in her character’s armor, and Wendy is not always likable, either. Wendy can be shrill and brittle, but also witty and warm. Her melancholy and vulnerability at the disintegration of her marriage is palpable — and relatable.

Written, directed and edited by women, “Learning to Drive” has a sweet nature and a light touch.

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Grace Gummer

Rated: R for language and sexual content