MAY 29, 2020
Andrew Ahn’s latest film, “Driveways,” is a quiet film that speaks volumes. Though focusing on only three major characters and running a trim 83 minutes, “Driveways” delivers more of an emotional punch than many films twice its length.
Ahn, who wrote and directed his first film, the acclaimed LGBTQ film “Spa Night” (2016), works here with a terrific script by Hannah Bos and Paul Thurteen that pares its story down to just what is needed. Single mom Kathy (Golden Globe nominee Hong Chau) drives to the Hudson Valley with her 8 year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye) to clear out the home of her late sister April. Kathy, who had little contact with her sister in adulthood, is shocked to discover that April was a hoarder, and with floor-to-ceiling junk facing her to clear out, it’s little wonder that Kathy is more than a little discouraged.
Meanwhile Cody, a sensitive kid, has his nose stuck in his tablet playing video games when he strikes up a conversation with next-door neighbor Del (Brian Dennehy in one of his final film roles). Del, a widower and Korean War veteran, spends his days playing bingo with his pals at the local VFW hall and his nights eating alone at the dining room table.
There’s a deep-seeded loneliness within Del that, in its own way, is mirrored within Cody. The boy is the kind of sweet, sensitive kid on whom bullies prey but who can be the best kind of friend. For Cody, with few friends his age in the neighborhood, that friend becomes Del, and a bond begins to grow between the two that helps to fill the emptiness in each of their lives.
The only other relationship that nurtures Cody is the key one with his mom. Chau’s Kathy is one of the most intriguing single mothers I’ve ever seen in a film. Yes, she smokes, drinks and goes out to bars at night, usually a movie depiction of a bad mother. But Chau makes us realize that these are just coping mechanisms that Kathy uses to get through this enormously stressful time in her life. At the same time, Kathy diligently spends her days cleaning out her sister’s house and her evenings snuggling with her beloved Cody. Chau has created a wonderfully complex character, one that dovetails beautifully into the Cody and Del stories.
Ahn was wise (or lucky enough) to cast a few Broadway vets in key supporting roles, such as Tony winner Christine Ebersole as a cluelessly racist neighbor and the great 91 year-old Jerry Adler as a VFW pal of Del’s who is just beginning to lose his memory.
But the heart and soul of the film is the relationship between Cody and Del, and young Jaye and veteran Dennehy both give it their all. I don’t know how much of Jaye’s performance as Cody is the young actor and how much is Ahn’s direction, but the entire film is on Jaye’s shoulders, and he delivers, giving one of the most moving juvenile performances that I’ve seen in years.
But “Driveways” will always be remembered as Brian Dennehy’s film. Dennehy, whom we lost last month at the age of 81, was considered by many to be the premier stage interpreter of the works of Eugene O’Neill of our generation, winning two Tony Awards in the process, for 1999’s “Death of a Salesman” (which I was privileged to see) and 2003’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
In those roles, he could bellow (and he did), but that’s not Del. Here Dennehy has created a quiet, contemplative man who looks back on his life with armfuls of regrets — how badly he treated his gay daughter Lisa, for example, or how, on a cross-country trip, he was more interested into getting to his destination than slowing down to actually see the country in which he lived. Those thoughts are contained in a monologue on his front steps that is just devastating and is among the best film work of Dennehy’s career.
If you try to describe the plot of “Driveways” to someone, it will likely sound like a snooze. Don’t try to describe it — just tell them to see it. They’ll thank you later.
“Driveways” is available to rent or buy on Amazon & iTunes, as well as other streaming platforms & pay-TV operators.