Alfred Uhry won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his play about cranky Miss Daisy, a Southern Jewish widow loosely based on his own grandmother, and Hoke, her black chauffeur. Set between 1948 and 1973, the work is meant to illustrate the great social changes of the period through the evolving friendship of these two opposites. The play is earnest but tidy. If either of the roles is acted too broadly or uncertainly, you can hear the contrivances creak.
Good news: In this funny and touching film version, tactfully directed by Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies), the creaks are minimal. Although the stunt casting of Dan Aykroyd as Miss Daisy’s son smacks of box-office insurance, the producers have wisely asked Morgan Freeman to return as Hoke, the role he created onstage. Hoke uses humor to disarm Miss Daisy’s bigotry, but when a stand must be taken, as when she refuses to let him stop to relieve himself on a long trip, Hoke’s anger is magisterial. Freeman’s nuanced acting is a marvel.
Many stars lusted to play Daisy. But theater legend Jessica Tandy (she was Blanche to Brando’s Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire) got the part, and she’s glorious. This is Tandy’s finest two hours onscreen in a film career that goes back to 1932. Her graceful, unfussy style is a sharp reproach to the histrionics in Steel Magnolias, the other current movie based on a Southern play. The elegant simplicity of this Daisy leaves no doubt about which is the flower of choice.