Based upon Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, the film explores the relationship between a stubborn Southern woman, Daisy (Jessica Tandy), and her good-natured but equally determined driver, Hoke (Morgan Freeman). After realizing that she can no longer safely drive herself, Daisy’s son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) hires Hoke to serve as her chauffeur. Though she already employs Idella (Esther Rolle) as a housekeeper, Daisy chafes at the idea of having “help”, especially when accepting Hoke’s assistance means admitting that she’s no longer fit to drive. Regardless of her rebuffs, Hoke keeps on reporting to work, continues offering Daisy rides, and pitches in to help Idella around the house to ensure that he actually earns his paycheck. He does so with a charming deference (and unwavering resolve) that eventually wears Miss Daisy down.
Daisy quickly proves herself to be a controlling and opinionated woman, but she is a complicated character. Though she demands perfection and exudes an air of superiority, she also has a good heart. When she discovers that Hoke doesn’t know how to read, she’s more disappointed for him than she is for herself. She knows he’s an intelligent, capable man, and it strikes her as wrong that he’s never been taught. Falling back on her teaching skills, she guides Hoke toward literacy in a gentle and empowering way.
Daisy also believes in equal rights and supports the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr., but Southern traditions are so ingrained in her that she often fails to act in accordance with her beliefs. As a Jewish woman in the South, and a widower to boot, Daisy is something of a minority herself (she rejects the notion that she is rich or that she should be treated better than anyone else), but her failings are typical of the times, more rooted in customary behavior and race roles than actual racism. For every time we judge her, we are also given a glimpse at her vulnerability, making it all the more moving when she finally looks into her driver’s eyes and says, “Hoke, you’re my best friend.”
Like any relationship, theirs is fraught with complications and frustrations, but it evolves over time, and is as nuanced as it is straightforward. No matter how many times they butt heads, Hoke and Daisy both like and respect one another. Deep down Daisy appreciates the way Hoke respectfully stands up to her as much as Hoke enjoys Daisy’s exasperating hard headedness. The film is both a historical commentary on race relations and a love story between two very different people who find that genuine affection is their greatest bond.