Driveways feels like a relic from another era, an aughts-era indie drama already past its expiration date.
An air of melancholy hangs heavy over Andrew Ahn’s genteel suburban drama Driveways, some of which can be attributed to its themes of loss and forgiveness, but also because it is one of the last feature film roles of the great Brian Dennehy, who passed away last month of natural causes at the age of 81. An absolute force of nature, he was the type of actor who possessed true screen presence, an imposing bear of a man who could transform from teddy to grizzly in a matter of moments. Driveways finds Dennehy in rather subdued form, playing an affable war veteran named Del who befriends new neighbors Kathy (Hong Chau) and her 8-year-old son, Cody (Lucas Jaye). Kathy has come to this small midwestern suburb to sell the house of her now-deceased sister, with whom she had a tenuous relationship. Cody, meanwhile, is shy, quiet, and prone to nerve-induced bouts of nausea. Cody and Del immediately take a liking to one another, not only because they each need one another — Cody struggles to find the courage to live his life, while Del simply longs to find companionship in his twilight years — but also because the script is too schematic by half.
This feels like a relic from another era, more specifically the early 2000s, when indie studios were churning out about ten of these low-key domestic affairs a year. The irony is that Ahn clearly wants to buck mainstream conventions and audience expectations, giving no thought to the fact that he is instead embracing a slew of others. Kathy and Cody may indeed be Vietnamese-American, but the second we see Del eyeing them while wearing his Korea War veteran’s cap, we automatically assume this film is headed into Gran Torino territory. But nope; he is instantly presented as a swell guy. What conflict that does exist in this film is strictly internal, as Kathy tries to overcome the guilt she feels over her sister’s death, while Del struggles with his own mortality. Chau, who gave a firecracker of a performance in 2018’s Downsizing, is fine in a role that forces her to tamp down her more appealing qualities, while Dennehy is dependably great, delivering a powerhouse ending monologue that makes the viewing worthwhile. One only wishes Ahn had found the film’s pulse a tad earlier. There is nothing inherently wrong with Driveways; but like the light dew that kisses the lawns and homes of its protagonists in the early morning light, it will dissipate from your memory in a matter of minutes.
Published as part of May 2020’s Before We Vanish.