License to Drive actually has some pretty significant messages. The failures and expense of the American healthcare system are so vast that it’s more cost effective to destroy two cars and allow a teenager without a license to shift into reverse in a cadillac that isn’t road safe. The 80s dudebro attitude to photograph a comatose date in a moving vehicle is enough to risk your life and kill you. Be the responsible dude and turn down a girl that wants to make out and go down on you when she’s past it and about to chunder.
It’s still 80s teen comedy misogyny: a father so inept that even when he keeps track of her contractions, fails to recognise his wife is in labour. It’s a film about misleading people, being unable to tell your girl the truth that you can’t drive (and only learning in the first place to impress girls) and hiding her in the trunk without thinking about her safety – let’s suffocate her and treat her like it’s the opening to Goodfellas (1990)? The aptly named Mercedes (Heather Graham) is turned into a pin-up by pasting her face onto a porno pose car girl. But Mercedes still has agency over her sexuality and her relationships with other men, including leaving an abusive one.But it’s at the end of the day a film about getting the girl and driving into the sunrise. It’s neither progressive neither quite as regressive as it could be. Heather Graham still plays a male fantasy. (Corey Feldman, rather than Haim, went on a date with her during filming.)
It’s a film I could have done with when I was 17, alongside those other teen car driving classics, American Graffiti (1973) and Teen Wolf (1985) – the time where my anxiety capped out with the feeling that all my friends were learning or knew how to drive. Of course, they didn’t, it was only a handful of people in the entire sixth form, but it offered that feeling of needing escape and freedom. I tried to make sense of this feeling in a 2015 poem:
In the curve slightly too much to the left
In hands divided between the satnav and steering wheel
In horizontally vertical parking spaces
And invisible curves
Under the grey-white clouds
And the windscreen meeting the horizon
It exists outside time
At 22, I barely know that many people my age that are actively driving. It’s weird how the significance of these goals shift when you grow older. Who cares quite so much about taking a girl out on a nice date and making it to a burger joint and rebel from your parents like it’s the only thing that matters?