Review: DRIVEWAYS, Reflections on Life and Death, Between Kind Neighbors
Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye, and Brian Dennehy star in the gentle yet piercing indie drama, directed by Andrew Ahn.
A tinge of sadness permeates Driveways, which at first appears to be inevitable due to the recent passing of the great Brian Dennehy, an actor who earned a well-deserved reputation as a mighty lion, poised to unleash a roar that would frighten any within its hearing. Here he assumes the neighborly role of a lion in repose, still king of the jungle, but satisfied with his days and content to observe and support, taking action only when needed or called upon.
Directed by Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), the film unfolds gently. Kathy (Hong Chau) travels to a small town after her somewhat-older sister April dies, with young son Cody (Lucas Jaye) in reluctant tow. Kathy herself is not eager to settle her sister's estate, especially once she gets a look inside the house, which is in a state of disrepair and filled with an extreme clutter of junk.
Keeping a watchful eye next door, Korean War military veteran Del (Dennehy) accepts a ride to the local VFW from Kathy, where he passes time with his similar-aged buddies and plays bingo. Very quickly, Kathy is overwhelmed by the work involved in clearing out her sister's house -- while still keeping up with her job as a medical transcriptionist at night -- and thus is grateful when Cody ends up under Del's kind care.
Written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, Driveways allows the characters to breathe and react in a naturalistic fashion to their surroundings. Kathy gradually starts to relax, for example, as the heavy burden of fixing up her sister's house starts to lighten, and as she realizes the freedoms allowed by her employment situation.
Cody, who is about to turn 9 years of age, gradually allows himself to start engaging with other people instead of solely his mobile device. And Del responds to opportunities himself, even as his taciturn manner remains in place.
Indeed, the three leading characters are exquisitely drawn and performed. Hong Chau and Brian Dennehy embody people who appear to be introverts; they are not inclined to spill their guts to strangers, yet they are willing to make themselves vulnerable by revealing the deepest of emotions, without ever straying too far into sentimentality.
Bursting into wider attention with her surprising role in Alexander Payne's ambitious Downsizing (2017), Hong Chau more recently displayed a steely nerve in TV's Watchmen (2019). Here she navigates tricky territory as a plainspoken mother who is protective of her child and of her own emotional boundaries. She may have been scarred by the past, though it's clear that she is more than capable of helming her own family and future.
As for Brian Dennehy, he is measured in his speech and actions. Somehow, he conveys the idea that he is always thinking and deciding what to do next, even when his body is still and his movements are limited. Because he has given such a wealth of complex, sometimes ferocious performances in the past, his professional history informs the disarming character; we suspect what Del is capable of doing, if he chose to do so, and that, in itself, inspires immense respect as a starting point.
Dennehy's closing words are ones for the ages. Some of that is, yes, because the actor passed away recently, but more so, it's because the film is drawn from a well of genuine compassion, fellow-feeling, and strength, and it strikes me as authentic and moving.
The film will be available to stream or download via distributor FilmRise on iTunes, Prime Video, GooglePlay, Microsoft, Satellite and Cable On-Demand Providers on Thursday, May 7, 2020. For more information, visit the official site.