‘Driving Madeleine’ Review: A Nonagenarian in Paris

‘Driving Madeleine’ Review: A Nonagenarian in Paris

A prickly cabdriver gains perspective thanks to a chatty nonagenarian.

Sound vaguely familiar? From “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Green Book,” there’s a whole subgenre of feel-good social drama in which unlikely connections are formed between passengers and drivers. “Driving Madeleine,” directed by Christian Carion, takes this dynamic and scrubs it of any real friction, like race or class.

Instead, it’s a heart-warmer about respecting your elders. In the film, a glossy modern-day Paris is set against the personal history of a woman in her 90s named Madeleine (Line Renaud), whose life has echoes in major touchstones in history: World War II, the Vietnam War, the women’s rights movements of the 1970s.

The bulk of the film unfolds over half a day. Charles (Dany Boon), a surly driver, takes a gig transporting Madeleine from her place in the suburbs to a retirement home, but in between the two take a drive through her old neighborhood — stopping for a bathroom break, then a meal — and contend with the horrors of Parisian traffic.

Charles’s paycheck gets fatter as the meter runs, but as Madeleine regales him with stories of her affair with an American G.I. — and, more shockingly, an attempted murder case involving her abusive ex-husband — their relationship sweetens into a genuine friendship. Flashback scenes of these fiery melodramas (Alice Isaaz plays young Madeleine) run alongside lackluster bonding moments. Etta James’s “At Last” plays repeatedly, forcing a soulfulness the film doesn’t possess.

Boon is best known as a star and director of middlebrow comedies in his native France (Americans may recognize him as the Parisian inspector in both “Murder Mystery” movies), but in “Driving Madeleine” he plays it straight, unconvincingly so as he looks back at his passenger with a rictus grin. With her sparkling baby blues and honey-dipped voice, Renaud comes off like an angel — a fitting role for the French icon and songstress, even if that means she’s less human as a result.

Driving Madeleine
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. In theaters.

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