Driveways is both a fitting farewell to Brian Dennehy and an uplifting message for people everywhere, a film all should see and all can appreciate.
There is an irony lying within and around Driveways; first screened at festivals in 2019 and acquired for distribution in December of that year by FilmRise, Andrew Ahn’s film was eventually released straight to video-on-demand in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A disaster in many ways, of course, to be forced to bypass a full cinema release, but Driveways is also a beneficiary – for want of a better word – of the pandemic; it is perhaps appreciated, enjoyed and cherished more deeply by audiences watching through a lens of social distancing and missing friends and family. Take nothing away from Driveways – in a pre-pandemic world, this would still have been brightly received, but it undoubtedly takes on more power and resonance seen alongside the often unbearable year of 2020.
Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s screenplay follows a mother and son (Kathy and Cody) who take on the work of clearing out Kathy’s recently deceased sister’s house. Through their time there, they get to know themselves and the neighbours better, most notably Del, an elderly widower living directly next door. The drama that builds from here is personal (both inwardly and outwardly for the characters) and touching. It is also restrained but the impact is never unattainable.
Much of the film’s power is owed to the three central actors: Hong Chau as Kathy, Lucas Jaye as Cody and the late Brian Dennehy as Del. Chau gives a strength to Kathy, a single mother dealing with the death of a sister she never really knew (said sister was 12 years older), and wonderfully grasps the maternal love Kathy inhibits for Cody. There is an emotional guard to her performance which slowly wears down, bubbling away to happiness and catharsis. The highlight of Driveways is the beautiful friendship between Cody and Del. Jaye plays the nervous, awkward Cody to perfection, little nuances to his performance highlighting a future star, and Dennehy (who passed away one month prior to its release) perfectly captures the loneliness Del feels as a widow. A final monologue from him near the end of the film is achingly melancholic but also full of such warmth and beauty. The two actors play off of one another wonderfully to create a central friendship that aids the growth of all of those in and around it.
Ultimately, Driveways is a hugely human film about the pleasures of life, in many ways similar to a Terrence Malick film but less spiritual and more personal. Ahn’s measured direction allows the world and characters to breathe in the simplest and best way, aided by Ki Jin Kim’s beautiful cinematography and Jay Wadley’s twinkling, piano-based original score. Thankfully the film is never twee or overly sentimental. It never forces life’s beauties down your throats but silently urges you to appreciate them, to connect with people. In these difficult times for everyone worldwide, Driveways is one of the greatest gifts we could ask for from cinema in 2020.