×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Driveways’

Brian Dennehy plays a Korean War veteran who befriends an 8-year-old Asian-American kid in this tiny but sensitively observed indie from 'Spa Night' director Andrew Ahn.

Director:
Andrew Ahn
With:
Brian Dennehy, Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye

1 hour 23 minutes

In the sensitive, suburbia-set indie “Driveways,” a single mother drags her 8-year-old son cross-country to empty out the house of her packrat older sister, newly deceased. It’s a chore for her, but an opportunity for the kid to do a bit of growing up, courtesy of the Korean War veteran living next door. At first, the old fella watches the newcomers with suspicion, debating whether to help or to go all Clint-Eastwood-in-“Gran Torino” on them and growl, “Get off my lawn!” But in time, the initially standoffish man reaches out in a gesture of neighborly goodwill, revealing “Driveways” to be that uncommon and all-too-welcome gift — like some kind of fragile wildflower, emerging tentatively through cracks in the concrete: a film about kindness.

Of course, there are other themes at play, including small but affecting insights into the immigrant experience and single motherhood, but it’s the bond connecting reclusive retiree Del (played by Brian Dennehy) and young Cody (newcomer Lucas Jaye, always convincing, never cutesy) that resonates most in a film so subtle, audiences may miss the subtext of the final conversation between these two characters — withheld until the end of this review, out of sensitivity to spoilers.

Written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, “Driveways” was penned under the assumption that white people would play the key roles, but Korean-American director Andrew Ahn — whose promising debut, “Spa Night,” grappled with the cultural and sexual dimensions of his identity — opted to cast the mother and son with Asian-American actors. That decision makes all the difference, adding an element of specificity to this gentle yet otherwise somewhat generic cross-generational friendship.

Even apart from that decision, Ahn and DP Ki Jin Kim are observant and detail-oriented filmmakers, capturing the little things that transport audiences back to their own childhood: Cody eating funnel-shaped Bugles chips off his fingertips, studying the lawn at ground level the way only kids seem to do, obediently fussing over his mother’s discarded cigarette butts. At first, Cody’s mom, Kathy (“Downsizing” discovery Hong Chau), comes across as stern and remote to the other adults, including a white neighbor named Linda who begins sentences with “Not being racist, but …” before doing exactly that. But as the film unfolds, we see how much Kathy cares for her son, whom she calls “Professor,” standing up to his dad by phone or transcribing medical reports for cash.

The film is told mostly from Cody’s point of view, as the young man finds old-school ways to entertain himself: getting bullied into wrestling matches with the aggro kids down the street, learning about manga comics from the local geeks, and chatting with Del on his front porch. Cody owns an iPad Mini (or similar device), but he doesn’t seem as tethered to it as other kids his age. At one point, he plans a birthday party at the local roller-skating rink (how many of those still exist?), only to abandon that for a bingo match with Del at the VFW hall after none of the other kids his age shows up.

Although “Driveways” doesn’t offer much in the way of dramatic excitement, it rewards those willing to adjust to its low-key, laid-back rhythms, suggested by editor Katharine McQuerrey’s laconic pacing and Jay Wadley’s omnipresent piano-and-strings score, which takes its cue from French composer Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies.” The cinematography looks a little grubby, but that’s part of the movie’s lo-fi charm — a throwback to the early days of Sundance (where Ahn’s first film screened, whereas this one debuted in the Berlinale’s youth-focused Generation program).

Cody may be the main character, but Ahn occasionally breaks from his relatively naive perspective to focus on the adults alone, as when Kathy goes out to the local bar by herself one night, or during a scene where Del goes shopping with a fellow veteran (Jerry Adler) and realizes that his friend, who appears to be suffering from dementia, has wandered off. In privileging Cody’s experience, the movie offers a relaxed and rather nostalgic view of small-town life through his eyes, but some of the things that happen seem to go over his head, indicated so discreetly that audiences could miss them, too.

Which brings us to the spoiler — if that’s the right word for a revelation that may actually enrich audiences’ understanding of a film. Without giving away too much, let’s just say that “Driveways” is tonally similar but dramatically the opposite of Michael Cuesta’s exceptional coming-of-age movie “L.I.E.”: Here, the older gentleman is not a sexual predator but the first person to affirm a “sensitive” kid years before the boy will understand what makes him different. Del has a strained relationship with his own daughter, who is a lesbian, and in Cody he sees a second chance to act as he should have toward her — and just in time, since “Driveways” creates a reason why the special connection between Del and Cody won’t last forever.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Personally speaking, I don’t cry often at the movies. By the end of that scene on Del’s porch, however, I was weeping, not from sadness but from the recognition of what their conversation signifies. It’s far too easy to coax tears via contrived tragedy, whereas “Driveways” earned my reaction by establishing a credible friendship between these two characters — one of whom, it should be said, even if the film never addresses the fact, was sent overseas to kill Koreans — and capping it off with a moment of sincere, shared humanity.

Film Review: 'Driveways'

Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, Los Angeles, Feb. 6, 2019. (In Berlin Film Festival — Generation Kplus.) Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: Director: Andrew Ahn. Screenplay: Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen. Camera (color): Ki Jin Kim. Editor: Katharine McQuerrey. Music: Jay Wadley.

Crew: A Maven Pictures, Symbolic Exchange production, in association with CinemaWerks, Farcaster Films, Studio Mao. (Int'l sales: ICM Partners, Los Angeles.) Producers: Andrew Ahn, Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen, Joe Pirro, James Schamus, Nicolaas Bertelsen, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler. Executive producers: Avy Eschenasy, Jenny Halper, Brian LaMacchia, Henry Wu, Joanna Plafsky, Stephen Mao, Ali K. Rizvi, Lee Broda, Jeff Rice, Dale Rosenbloom, Gabriel Napora, Yas Taalat, Cody Sparshu, Hal "Corky" Kessler. Co-prodcuers: M. Shawn Lawler, David C. Smith, Jean-Philippe Prugnaud, Jay Livingston, David Yashar, Rick Gerson, Nic Marshall, Mahum Jamal.

With: Brian Dennehy, Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye

Music By: , Christine Ebersole, Jerry Adler, Jeter Rivera, Sophia Distefano, Stan Carp, Bill Buell, Robyn Payne, Jack Caleb, James DiGiacomo, Samathan Jones, Jennifer Delora, Joe Felece.

More Film

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

  • Wanda Film's Zeng Maojun

    Shanghai: China's Once-Mighty Wanda Casts Itself in Role of Survivor

    The soundtrack for the introductory showreel at Wednesday evening’s Shanghai press event announcing Wanda Pictures’ annual line-up was aspirational and strangely defiant.  It began with Nina Simone crooning, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good,” and then continued with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “You [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

  • Anne Hathaway

    Crew Member Stabbed on Set of Anne Hathaway's 'The Witches' in England

    A crew member has been stabbed in the neck on the set of Anne Hathaway’s “The Witches” remake, which is being shot at the Warner Bros. Studios stages in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. The Hertfordshire Constabulary said in a statement that the victim was hospitalized and his alleged attacker was arrested. The two men are believed to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content