At the beginning of Christian Carion’s Driving Madeleine, taxi driver Charles (Dany Boon) is asked to pick up a fare at the other side of Paris. His customer is Madeleine, a sharp-witted 92-year-old played wonderfully by Line Renaud, who asks him to take her to a nursing home where she’ll be staying. As they drive through the sunny streets of Paris, Madeleine begins to tell Charles her life story, with her words soon leaving a profound impact on the driver.
With a deliciously jazzy score colouring the soundtrack, the opening act of this film is as delightful as the characters’ drive through the French capital. Boon and Renaud are paired wonderfully together, with their natural chemistry making spending time with them an endlessly enjoyable and touching experience. As the passenger opens up about her first love (an American soldier from her youth), it looks like the journey is set to be a heart-warming trip down memory lane for her. However, events take a more sobering turn when the war ends and she marries the domineering Ray (a menacing Jérémie Laheurte), who regularly beats her and resents the child she had with the American.
The situation becomes so severe that the young Madeleine (Alice Isaaz) enacts her own flavour of punishment upon her abuser. The violence (though offscreen) is severe enough that the movie momentarily becomes more like a taut thriller than a nostalgic road trip movie. With this revelation about the unassuming older lady out in the open, the script broadens its scope to examine aspects of historic domestic abuse. Although Madeleine’s story does well to shed some light on the subject, the flashback scenes rarely connect to what’s happening in the present. Moreover, the tonal disconnect between these two segments can become distractingly jarring.
By the end of the pair’s grand journey through Paris, viewers will have learned more about Madeleine’s turbulent past and the heartbreaks she’s had in her life. Likewise, Boon’s endearing performance will have audiences warming up to the driver, too. Due to the tonal imbalance, however, the emotional payoff the ending wants to have just isn’t there.
Despite its missteps, Boon and Renaud’s captivating performances make Driving Madeleine a trip worth taking.
Driving Madeleine is released in select cinemas on 17th November 2023.
Watch the trailer for Driving Madeleine here: