A Film a Week - Driveways

previously published on Asian Movie Pulse
Sometimes, a film manages to be big by actually being small and quiet. Concentrated in a small circle of family and neighbours and centred around the mundane task of cleaning a dead relative's home and refurbishing it for sale, Andrew Ahn's sophomore feature "Driveways" speaks volumes about life, death, growing up and the contemporary America. The film premiered at last year's edition of Berlinale before going on a predominantly American festival tour. Since last month, it is available on VOD.

Kathy (Hong Chau, a prolific TV actress who was also glimpsed in Alexandre Payne's "Downsizing" and Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" on the big screen) is a single mother of Cody (Lucas Jaye in a breakthrough role) and two of them arrive to an unnamed upsate New York town to clear out the house of her late sister Kelly. The sisters were estranged for a great part of their lives, Kelly is a decade or so older, and Kathy is simply the only living relative who can inherit the house. The trouble is, however, that Kelly was a bit of a hoarder, which makes the house uninhabitable for the time being.

Cody is an introverted, sensitive 8-year old boy who might or might not be gay and who basically has no friends and feels no urge to have them. Until one day, when he meets the next-door neighbour, a Korean War veteran Dell (the legendary Brian Dennehy) and the two forge an unlikely friendship. Dell is a widower and also a bit of a loner for whom a bingo night at the local VFW is a synonym for fun socializing. For the two of them, one summer that might "change everything" is an opportunity to learn a thing or two about life.

Death looms over the characters of "Driveways". For Cathy, it is something that she has to deal with, like everything else in her life is more or less something to be dealt with and the time for her to re-evaluate her own life is scarce. For Cody, it is his first encounter with such a thing and his feelings about it are diffuse since he never knew his aunt who was a bit of the mystery for everyone around her. For Dell, however, death is something that exists both in his recent and more distant and more traumatic past, but also something he has to prepare for in the future, so that actually has his never-ending present with microwaved TV-dinners and trips down the memory lane to live in.

On the other hand, it is strange how the characters are so lively. Kathy is a combination of a wear that the daily grind leaves on her and protective maternal instincts. Cody is not just a crystal prism that reflects the light from others, but a smart boy who wants to find his own way in life, while Dell is the embodiment of the common decency that seems forgotten nowadays. For that purpose, the late Brian Dennehy had to play against his usual screen type (consisting of usually memorable villains) in his last role and to get closer to the work he did on stage.

But it is not just them: an estate agent proves to be a proper friend, the Mexican kids from the neighbourhood are nice and friendly and a casually racist woman (Christine Ebersole, a priceless scene-stealer) who also lives nearby and her two wrestling-obsessed kids are quite the characters. Through them and their stories, marvellously detailed in Hannah Bos' and Paul Thureen's script, rather than through the action to speak of, Ahn paints the picture of the contemporary Americana.

Coming of age and learning about life is the standard for Ahn's poetics, as the Korean-American director had already demonstrated in his feature debut "Spa Night" (2016) in which his protagonist examines his sexuality when he enters the inner world of a gay sauna he works at. Ahn's gentleness in the directorial approach is even more highlighted in "Driveways". The camerawork by Kim Ki-jin is evocative, Jay Wadley's piano score suits the film well and the meditative pace thanks to Katie Mcquerrey's editing really works. Ahn stays in control over the technical aspects of the film and directs the actors to perfection, making "Driveways" a brilliant, life-like little indie.

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