Stressed out Parisian taxi driver Charles (Dany Boon, "Micmacs") is in debt and two traffic violation points away from losing his car when he gets a call asking him to pick up a fare on the other side of the city. He’s halfway through rejecting it when he’s informed the passenger has okayed him starting his meter now and while it will take him a while to really begin to listen, Charles’ life is about to be changed by “Driving Madeleine.”
Laura's Review: B-
The elegant older woman Charles picks up from a quiet waterfront neighborhood asks him to load her one suitcase as she takes one last look around. ‘All this because I fell down the stairs six months ago,’ declares Madeleine Keller (Line Renaud, Claire Denis' "I Can't Sleep") before asking her driver how old he thinks she is. ‘Eighty,’ guesses Charles. ‘I am ninety-two,’ the woman tells him and we are both surprised (Renaud was born in 1928). She’s headed to Courbevoie where a nursing home awaits her, but asks Charles if they can drive through Vincennes, the neighborhood where she grew up. Charles grumbles, but acquiesces and cowriter (with Cyril Gely, 2016's "Chocolat")/director Christian Carion ("Joyeaux Noel") begins to flash back to Madeleine’s life story (Alice Isaaz, "Elle," as the younger Madeleine) as the old woman tells it to her driver.
There was the never forgotten romance with American G.I. Matt (Elie Kaempfen) which left her with a baby boy to rear in post-war Paris and so she marries Ray (Jérémie Laheurte, "Blue Is the Warmest Colour") and puts up with his abuse until it is extended to her son and, just for a moment, “Driving Madeleine” takes a much needed and rather shocking detour away from cliché. As he hears Madeleine’s life take an unexpected direction, Charles begins to open up about his own fears about losing the woman he loves. The confessional atmosphere turns driver and rider into not only immediate friends, but partners in crime, Madeleine acting their way out of a ticket, Charles defying nursing home regulations to give his fare one last splurge.
We’ve all seen movies where an older person gradually gets through to someone younger to impart life lessons and while it takes an interesting route, “Driving Madeleine” ends exactly how you think it will. Still, this pairing of a veteran French chanteuse and middle-aged comic actor is inspired, Renaud and Boon, who costarred in 2008’s “Welcome to the Sticks,” both creating characters we care about and who come to care about each other. Cinematographer Pierre Cottereau ("Black Box") finds multiple angles to keep the drive engaging, flashbacks rendered in dimmer lighting suggesting not only the earlier time period, but Madeleine’s increasingly bleak outlook.
“Driving Madeleine” is a sentimental tale whose stars earn its sentiment.
Robin's Review: B
Charles (Dany Boon) is a disgruntled Paris taxi driving with both business and family troubles. When he gets a fare on the other side of the city, he sees the chance to make a quick euro “Driving Madeleine.”
The obvious comparison the viewer will make in the opening moments of the film will be the 1998 drama by Bruce Beresford, “Driving Miss Daisy.” Fortunately, director Christian Carion rips away the sentimentality of the older film and gives us something that is believable and about real people, not designed characters.
We know, through phone calls to his boss and his wife, that Charles is in trouble. His marriage is on the rocks, he owes his boss money and he is two points in traffic violations from losing his taxi driver’s license. Then, he gets the order to pick up a new fare, Madeleine (Line Renaud). He begrudgingly takes the customer on the other side of Paris knowing he can make extra money with a long fare. He is not prepared for Madeleine.
Where Charles is gruff and taciturn, Madeleine is funny, quick-witted and loves life. This contrast in characters makes for a pleasant and poignant interchange as she, first, asks him to make a detour to her old neighborhood. Feeling put out by the request, he reluctantly goes out of their way. When they arrive, she is sorely disappointed to see what progress has done – eradicating the old ‘hood.
As the two make the journey to Madeleine’s new home, a senior care facility, she tells him stories of her long, sometimes colorful, sometimes tragic life (done in a series of flashbacks). Against his well dug-in will, Charles begins to soften and starts to appreciate Madeleine and what she has done in her life and what she says. The ride from point A to point B takes far longer than anticipated and it is a pleasant, informative journey.
Director Carion co-wrote the script with Cyril Gely and it is a gentle exploration into Madeleine’s not-so-gentle life with its fleeting happiness and long suffering. As the elderly matron, she is 92 year old and proud of it (Line Renaud is 94), tells Charles her story, it cuts to the flashbacks that fully illuminate her character and make Madeleine a real person.
Dany Boon is a mere foil to Madeleine, with his seemingly huge problems that are tempered as he hears her story of happy and sad times. But, Charles does have his own full arc of character as his day with Madeleine changes his view of life, making for a satisfying two-hander.
Cohen Media opens "Driving Madeleine" in select theaters on 1/12/24, expanding in subsequent weeks. Click here for play dates.