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Driving Me Crazy

(Dutch, Peter Faiman, USA, 1991)


 


Driving Me Crazy was the first (and only) American assignment directed by Australian Peter Faiman after his smash success with Crocodile Dundee (1986). But this is not an auteur film – or if it is, the auteur is its producer-writer, John Hughes, one of the smoothest commercial operators in contemporary cinema.

Capitalising on his early success with genuinely inventive teen movies like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (1986), Hughes tried to find the formula movie – one with a sure-fire combination of story, star and streetwise cleverness. But his ability to intuit such a combination severely waned after the mid ’80s, and has (sadly) yet to return.

Driving Me Crazy attempts anew to crack the formula. It matches a director on the rise with a television star on the rise (Ed O’Neill from Married With Children). It mixes a few old movie classics (like Frank Capra‘s It Happened One Night [1934] and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels [1942]) with a previous Hughes success (Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987). And then it adds a few cute jokes on serious, topical subjects like serial killing.

It is an odd-couple road movie, teaming O’Neill with a rich, spoilt little brat (played by Ethan Randall) who’s the son of his girlfriend (Jo Beth Williams). O’Neill starts out broad and vulgar – there are plenty of jokes about belching, farting and being a horny, working class guy – but, in one of the many compromises of the film, he ends up decent, middlebrow and a model father figure.

Randall, too, gets progressively less interesting as he changes from an aggro-driven, martial arts-trained, mini-American Psycho to a respectful, obedient zero.

On the way, there are several cringe-inducing reveries about America’s homeless. Beaming black faces, poor but happy, offer homilies to our heroes about humanity’s need for hope. This is quite a message in a film that finally reveals its salt-of-the-earth hero to be, in fact, extremely well off. As O’Neill bids farewell and shakes the hands of the homeless blacks and struggling labourers who have helped him out, he reassures them: “I’ll get my people to ring you on Monday and see what they can do to help you out”.

Lucky them.

© Adrian Martin October 1991


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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