Cinequest Review: Driveways
There’s a certain magic to the goodness on display in Andrew Ahn’s Driveways. Working from a screenplay by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, Ahn takes what could be an overly treacly story and instead concocts an intimate masterpiece of intergenerational empathy, filling the screen with small moments of kindness that are enough to bring one to tears in a more-than-earned fashion. Driveways serves up three protagonists, each with their own burdens to bear. Kathy (Hong Chau) is a single mother, scraping by financially by doing medical transcriptions, forced to travel to a small town in upstate New York to clean out the house of her recently deceased, semi-estranged sister — a task that not only carries immense emotional weight, but requires backbreaking labor given the hoarder-esque state of the home. Along for the trip is her pre-teen son Cody (Lucas Jaye), a sweetly sensitive boy often glued to his tablet (when the electricity is working). Lacking many friends, Cody isn’t particularly perturbed to have been uprooted from his home, but feels the anxiety of starting over in a new place at a delicate age all the same. The first friend Cody makes is an unlikely one: Del (Brian Dennehy), a widowed Korean War veteran living next door to Kathy’s sister’s house, who spends his days alternating between his porch and the VFW bingo hall with his fellow former servicemen. Cody is the film’s fulcrum, with his adolescent struggles to find his place in the world becoming the central focus of both Kathy and Del’s lives — the challenges the two adults face are nothing to sneeze at, but caring for Cody becomes a shared but independent purpose that helps give them the strength to overcome their hardships. For Kathy, it’s a reason to think about the possibilities of starting over with her son somewhere new; for Del it’s a second chance to give someone the support he may not have sufficiently provided the first time around. Ahn’s direction is delicate and nuanced, allowing his characters to grow alone and with each other in an unhurried manner, despite the film’s relative brevity. His commitment to character is rewarded with wonderfully empathetic portrayals by his central trio — Jaye shows impressive range for a young actor, but Chau and Dennehy are quietly, heartbreakingly brilliant as the adults charged with ushering a young child through an unsteady period of his life. It’s a credit to both the actors and the director that the bond between the three is so believable — tales of odd-couple pairings, such as the intergenerational and interracial friendships on display here, are often a minefield for cringeworthy cliché, but Ahn and company imbue the proceedings with such a level of depth and realism as to entirely avoid any such pitfalls. To be reminded of the possibilities of human kindness in a manner that rings as true as it does here is nothing short of a small miracle of humanist filmmaking, the presence of which fills a much-needed void in these times of great uncertainty.