Unlikely Friendships Between Humans and Between Animals

In 2011 Jennifer Holland published the popular Unlikely Friendships, a book of (as the subtitle notes) 47 Stories from the Animal Kingdom. For a quick peek of some examples, see the photos collected on its associated Tumblr link.

A couple recent indie movies, one on DVD and the other newly in theaters, also celebrate unlikely friendships, but of the human kind. Both happen to involve teachers and adult students. Both also have been less successful with audiences than the non-human depictions noted above.

I. Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

IMDB: “A retired woman hires a dance instructor to give her private dance lessons at her home…What begins as an antagonistic relationship turns into a close friendship as they dance together.”

Gena Rowlands is 75-year-old Lily, the lesson receiver; Cheyenne Jackson the young teacher.

Philip David Morton, Huffington Post: “The movie was adapted by Richard Alfieri, from his own play, and directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman who also directed the stage production first produced in 2001…The tight two-person story has achieved international success as a theatrical production…”

Unfortunately, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks has felt about that long to some viewers. Maybe it didn’t translate that well from theater to film.

You can watch the trailer below, and if you’re interested, the film’s available on Amazon.

II. Learning to Drive

In the newer Learning to Drive, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a writer in Manhattan whose marriage is suddenly kaput, begins taking driving lessons from Darwan (Ben Kingsley), so she can visit her daughter (Grace Gummer) in upstate New York. Darwan, an immigrant who was a university professor in his homeland of India, happens to be on the brink of entering an arranged marriage.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “In the not-so-subtle hands of screenwriter Sarah Kernochen and director Isabel Coixet, the symbolism in ‘Learning to Drive’ is about as obvious as a flashing ‘Construction Ahead’ sign.”

The trailer:

What I’ve gleaned from the decidedly mixed reviews is that this one’s for those who particularly like unlikely friendships between mature people.

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “There’s a hint of romance between Wendy and Darwan, but the film’s true interest is in cross-cultural exchange, in how much better we’d be if we’d listen to each other — as Darwan teaches Wendy to breathe and focus, to stop chatting with phantoms as she negotiates Manhattan traffic, so he must learn from her to let others into his heart.”

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