By Diana Cheng
AAP Film & Arts Writer
Is there a movie that’s suitable for our present time when we have to stay isolated yet yearning for togetherness, sensing so sharply our frailty and yet striving to uphold each other, finding safety in our own home while feeling the need to reach out?
“Driveways” is that film. It’s not about a pandemic or an outbreak; we don’t need such horror flicks as we’re living it. It’s not all fun and escapist either, for we need realism to keep us grounded. “Driveways” shows us the power of caring human relationships and the change love can bring, yet painfully unfurls the precariousness of life. On a large existential canvas it paints with personal, relatable strokes.
Korean American director Andrew Ahn takes only 83 minutes to tell a moving and thought-provoking story from the screenplay written by writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. “Driveways” is a nominee for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 and received two nominations for the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards: Best Female Lead and Best First Screenplay.
Eight-year-old Cody (Lucas Jaye, his breakout, full feature role) follows his single mom Kathy (Hong Chau, “Downsizing”, 2017), driving to another town to clean out the house of his aunt April who had just passed away. Only when they reach the house do they know a bit about the hoarder that April was, leaving a daunting task for his mom to deal with.
For Kathy, the task hits her as a dawning revelation. She doesn’t know her own sister at all, one who was twelve years older than she is. As she clears out a hoarder’s mess, Kathy realises how estranged their relationship had been. A life’s gone and now it’s too late to lament what could have been.
In contrast to the messy, dark abode of a foregone person, light shines on a new chapter in the young boy’s life. An introvert who amuses himself with handheld games and manga, Cody soon establishes an unlikely friendship with Del (the legendary Brian Dennehy), a Korean War veteran who lives next door. Dennehy and Jaye have a naturally affective on-screen chemistry. As their friendship grows, it’s heartwarming to see Cody come out of his shell and gain confidence while at the same time, a lonely widower is revived with memories gushing out like a treasure trove newly unearthed. The scene at the end of the film when Del shares with Cody a pivotal episode in his life will remain one memorable take in Dennehy’s works.
The veteran actor was 80 years old during the filming of “Driveways”, one of his last works. He died on April 15, 2020 at age 81. On hindsight, the parallel of his character Del and his real life coming to the last leg is poignant. This film will remain a shining gem of his oeuvres. Dennehy’s performance is authentic and naturalistic, his interplay with young Jaye is affective and the forte of the feature. The film belongs to both of them.
The side story of Del and his friends at the war veteran association offers an enjoyable contrast. A moving scene is when one of the veterans, Rodger (Jerry Adler, another acting veteran), recites a poem he learned as a school boy, and ironically, a poignant description of his present situation. That’s ‘Thanatopsis’ by William Cullen Bryant. A meditative scene follows as he digs out from his longterm memory the verses about “the innumerable caravan, which moves to that mysterious realm, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death…” As these men deal with growing old and facing death, Cody begins to explore life and friendship with a deeper understanding.
Playing single mom Kathy, Chau offers a convincing performance. That the mother and son are Asian Americans is crucial in conveying a paradoxical idea, that is, the film focuses not on the race issue. Similarly, it isn’t about a boy searching for his sexual identity either as Cody is confronted with the two young, rumbustious wrestling fans in the neighborhood. Racial or sexual identity aside, “Driveways” explores the universal predicament of all humans: growing up, dealing with loneliness, searching for connection, and being mortal.
In recent years, other features have been produced which share similar significance, showing that Asian American actors can rightfully be the main protagonist of a movie without having their ethnicity being brought to the forefront as an issue to be exhibited or examined. Two films come to mind: “Columbus” (2017) and “Searching” (2018), both star Korean American actor John Cho. Ahn’s “Driveways” is a welcomed addition to this trend.
“Driveways” is available to stream or download at iTunes, Prime Video, GooglePlay, Microsoft, Satellite and Cable On-Demand Providers, and is streaming via Local Theaters.