DRIVING MISS DAISY
DRIVING MISS DAISY ($20) is a genuine delight of a movie, which I really like because it tells a very simple story in a tender manner, without any grandiose pretensions. I would guess that enough people had similar feelings about DRIVING MISS DAISY, because the film earned the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1989, as well as one for its leading lady Jessica Tandy. But then again, DRIVING MISS DAISY does have quite a pedigree; starting out as a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Alfred Uhry. In hindsight, one could almost say that the Pulitzer almost guaranteed that the Motion Picture Academy would honor DRIVING MISS DAISY in some form or other.
DRIVING MISS DAISY tells the story of the unlikely friendship that is forged between an elderly Jewish woman and the nearly as old African American man who becomes her chauffer. Opening in late 1940s Georgia, DRIVING MISS DAISY follows one Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), whose advancing age makes it impossible for her to operate an automobile safely. Daisyís son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) is a wealthy businessman who solves his motherís problem by hiring Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) to be Daisyís chauffer. Initially, Daisy resents Hoke because his presence in her home represents a loss of her independence, but eventually the two develop a workable relationship, which grows into a deep friendship over the next quarter century.
In addition to Jessica Tandyís Oscar winning turn, DRIVING MISS DAISY also features an outstanding performance from Morgan Freeman, who also originated the role of Hoke on the stage. Tandy and Freeman have a marvelous chemistry together on the screen and makes the filmís central relationship completely believable. Of course, the filmís biggest surprise comes in the form of comedian Dan Aykroyd, who gives a truly marvelous dramatic performance. Aykroyd showed tremendous promise with this performance, yet has never turned up in anything else that tests his merits as a serious thespian. The cast of DRIVING MISS DAISY also features Patti LuPone and Esther Rolle.
Warner Home Video has made DRIVING MISS DAISY available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is a very nice transfer that brings out the simple beauty of Peter Jamesí understated cinematography. Much of the film would appear to have been shot with a slight diffusion filter over the lens, so the image on the DVD isnít as razor sharp as many have come to expect from the format. Still, the picture produces excellent detail, allowing one to appreciate the production design and period settings. Colors are nicely saturated, without ever appearing exaggerated and flesh tones are quite natural, despite some of the age makeup applied to some of the actors. Blacks are accurate, white are clean and the picture has a nice sense of depth. Digital compression artifacts are always well camouflaged.
Surprisingly, DRIVING MISS DAISY sports a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel stereo surround soundtrack, instead a 5.1 channel remix. I guess since the film is primarily dialogue driven, transcribing the original Dolby Surround stems into the discrete format wasnít deemed necessary. In Dolby Surround, the rear channels provide a nice sense of ambience, as well as adding some musical fill to Hans Zimmerís lilting score. There is a some stereo separations in the sound effects, but there is nothing particularly pronounced. Dialogue is very cleanly rendered, with the actorsí voices retaining warmth and character. Not a particularly inspired soundtrack, but it does sound nice enough. French and Spanish language tracks are also provided on the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as few nice supplements. Director Bruce Beresford, screenwriter Alfred Uhry and producer Lili Fini Zanuck are on hand for a running audio commentary. Although recorded separately, the edited result produces an informative and fairly entertaining commentary track. Also included on the DVD are several featurettes. Jessica Tandy: Theater Legend to Screen Star is a six minute look at the actressí career, featuring interviews with those who knew and worked with her. Miss Daisy's Journey from Stage to Screen is an eighteen minute program that traces the projects difficult path from Pulitzer Prize winning play to Academy Award winning motion picture. Finally, there is the original 1989 making-of featurette, which is a fairly standard six minute PR piece. Closing out the supplements are a theatrical trailer, cast/crew filmographies and an awards list.
I am a big fan of DRIVING MISS DAISY and am glad that the Academy Award winning Best Picture has finally been given a quality DVD release. Having the film in 16:9 enhanced wide screen is something that movie fans have been longing for since the early days o the DVD format. Those of us put off by the former full screen release can finally enjoy Jessica Tandyís Academy Award winning turn, as well as the terrific performances of Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd. Highly recommended.
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