Driving Miss Daisy: One of Worst Oscar Winners

driving_miss_daisy_posterA mildly entertaining adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a simple black man (Morgan Freeman), who’s hired as chauffeur for a cantankerous old Southern woman (Jessica Tandy), and winds up being her most loyal companion. The theatrical film, directed by Bruce Beresford in a smooth but undistinguished and impersonal style, benefits from the likable performances by the two leads.

Dan Aykroyd is cast against type in an unusual “straight” role as Daisy’s son, Boolie, though you can never quite forget who’s playing the part.

Tandy plays Mrs. (“Miss”) Daisy Werthan, a 72-year-old wealthy white Jewish widowed, who was once a school teacher. She lives alone in Atlanta, Georgia, except for an African American housemaid named Idella (Esther Rolle). When Miss Daisy wrecks her car, her son Boolie (Aykroyd), hires Hoke Coleburn (Freeman), a chauffeur who drove for a local judge until he recently died. Miss Daisy refuses to let Hoke drive her, but gradually starts to accept him.

When Miss Daisy realizes that Hoke is illiterate, she teaches him how to read. As Miss Daisy and Hoke spend time together, she gains appreciation for his other skills and the two become friends. After Idella dies in 1963, rather than hire a new maid, Miss Daisy decides to care for her own, and Hoke assists with the cooking; the two plant a vegetable garden.

 

driving_miss_daisy_4_freeman_tandyThe film exposes the racism and prejudice that permeated American society, such as when Alabama highway patrolmen make bigoted comments about Miss Daisy’ religion and Hoke’s race. After the synagogue is bombed, Miss Daisy realizes that she is also the victim of prejudice. Miss Daisy attends a dinner at which Dr. Martin Luther King gives a speech. She initially invites Boolie to the dinner, but he declines, and suggests that Miss Daisy invite Hoke. However, Miss Daisy only asks him to be her guest during the car ride to the event and ends up attending the dinner alone. Hoke is insulted by the manner of the invitation, opting to listen to the speech on the car radio.

In 1971, Miss Daisy showing signs of dementia, and Hoke, caring and alert, declares friendship. Boolie puts Daisy in a retirement home, and Hoke, now 81, retires. Boolie and Hoke drive to the retirement home to visit Miss Daisy, who is 97. As Hoke feeds her and reminisces about the good old times together, the image of a car is seen driving into the distance.

driving_miss_daisy_1_freemanThe film received nine nominations, winning four: Best Picture, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Makeup. Driving Miss Daisy had no violence and no sex-it was a middlebrow movie about virtues and decent values.

The film’s low budget ($7.5 million), and the fact that it was made without big-name stars, commanded the Academy members’ attention. Producer Zanuck observed after winning: “Anything that tugs at your heart and emotions has a good chance for the Best Picture.”

Driving Miss Daisy broke a number of records.  It is the only film based on an off Broadway production to win the Best Picture.  It is the last Best Picture winner to receive a PG rating.

driving_miss_daisy_2_freeman_tandyAt 81, Jessica Tandy became the oldest winner in the history of the Best Actress category.  However, Tandy is not the oldest winner; Christopher Plummer claims the title, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar at 82.

Oscar Nominations: 9

Picture, produced by Richard D. Zanuck and Lili Fini Zanuck
Screenplay (Adapted): Alfred Uhry
Actress: Jessica Tandy
Actor: Morgan Freeman
Supporting Actor: Dan Aykroyd
Art direction-set decoration: Bruno Rubeo; Crispian Sallis
Film Editing: Mark Warner
Costume design: Elizabeth McBride
Makeup: Manlio Rocchetti, Lynn Barber, and Kevin Haney

Oscar Awards: 4

Picture
Actress
Screenplay
Makeup

Oscar Context

The most nominated film in 1989, “Driving Miss Daisy,” received four Oscars out of its 9 nominations, including Picture, Screenplay, and Actress. The biggest scandal was that the film’s director, Bruce Beresford, failed to receive recognition from his peers in the Directors Branch.

The other Best Picture nominees represented a mixed bag in genre and quality: Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama “Born on the Fourth of July” with 8 nominations, “My Left Foot” with 5, “Dead Poets Society” with 4, and “Field of Dreams” with 3.

Cast

Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessca Tandy)

Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman)

Boolie Werthan (Dan Aykroyd)

Florine Werthan (Patti LuPone)

Idella (Esther Rolle)

Mis McClatchey (Joann Havrilla)

Oscar (William Hall Jr.)

Dr. Weil (Alvin M. Sugraman)

nonie (Clarice F. Geigerman)

Miriam (Muriel Moore)

 

Credits:

Warner release

Zanuck Company Productions