Driveways is a movie worth your patience. A couple of clunky scenes near the start – with artificial dialogue and equally inauthentic performances by minor characters – tempted me to hit “stop” on my remote. Knowing that Brian Dennehy was going to have a bigger part kept me around, and I’m glad I lingered.
Dennehy, who died last month at 81, has a nostalgic place in my heart. He had one of his earliest roles in one of the first grown-up movies my parents let me watch at the cinema, the goofy Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn comedy Foul Play. In Silverado, a Western that saw frequent play on the family Betamax in my adolescence, Dennehy was the heavy against a star-studded ensemble that included an unknown wildling named Kevin Costner. Whether the villain or hero (as in another family fave of the time, Best Seller), Dennehy brought gravity, charm, and veracity to his roles, in a manner that didn’t hog the spotlight, but made him no less memorable.
In Driveways, Dennehy humbly took third billing as Del, a widower and Korean War vet residing alone in the Hudson River Valley. The story centers instead around Kathy (Downsizing‘s Hong Chau) and 8 year old Cody (Lucas Jaye), who have just pulled into town. A single mom and her son, they’ve driven from Michigan to settle the estate of Kathy’s long-estranged and recently deceased sister, who lived next door to Del.
What Kathy hoped would be a simple in-out task is complicated by discovering her sister was a severe hoarder, a fact the script handles with genuineness and sympathy. The power company long ago shut off her electricity, and piles of possessions render the floor invisible, the bathroom unusable.
Kathy has an initial don’t-talk-to-strangers aloofness towards Del, but when he snakes multiple extension cords across their connecting driveway, to furnish illumination for their cleanup, she and Cody warm to him. When later childcare plans fall through, a touching bond between the widower and little boy develops.Under Andrew Ahn’s direction, in his second feature, Driveways contains myriad little details that flesh out and humanize this trio of characters. The way Cody scrunches his eyes shut when he sees vulgar graffiti in a rest stop bathroom suggests he’s a highly sensitive kid. Kathy’s light caress of Cody’s face as she calls him “Professor” speaks volumes of their affectionate connection. Del’s unostentatious care for a fellow vet with early dementia (a small but memorable role for Jerry Adler) says all we need to know about his generous spirit.
I appreciate that Driveways’ scriptwriters and Ahn’s direction don’t explicitly spell out everything, but give us enough to deduce the reasons for the strength of Del and Cody’s connection. Del has a daughter in Seattle he’s immensely proud of, but seldom sees; while Cody’s absentee father has left a void. Likewise the grief for a little-known sister and a profoundly missed wife are more perceived than overtly spoken, in the glint of Del’s wedding ring and Kathy’s wistful tone.
Driveways‘ dialogue is hit-or-miss, but the framing of scenes by Ahn and his cinematographer Ki Jin Kim filled me with joyous admiration. The wariness of new neighbors is nicely represented as Del views them through a window or the slats on his porch. Their gradual rapprochement is cannily depicted: an early image has them conversing across separate porches; later, the camera zooms in on a bowl of popcorn, with Del and Cody’s hands alternately reaching into it.
The film score by Jay Wadley, of brisk, light solo piano with occasional violin accompaniment, is perfect for the gentle warm tone of Driveways. Ahn doesn’t hit us over the head with a message, but delicately reminds us that life is transitory, so we’d best treasure the good relationships that land in our paths.
(Driveways is now available on major streaming platforms like Apple TV and Amazon.)
(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )