Bolstered by a trio of amazing performances, Andrew Ahn’s sophomore feature ‘Driveways’ is a brilliant inversion of a coming-of-age tale.
When Kathy arrives in her deceased sister’s house, it is implied that she and Kathy haven’t spoken in a number of years. Kathy had never been to this house, having her eight-year-old son Cody navigate from the passenger seat. The death of Cody’s aunt should hit him harder, but he seemingly never knew her much. And when the door to his aunt’s house is opened, Cody learns why. It is the house of a hoarder, and all of the questions that Kathy never thought to ask and never wanted to ask are answered. A metaphor to Schrodinger’s cat could be made, but the actual dead cat found in the bathtub does that for me.
Driveways, the second feature from Andrew Ahn, doesn’t shy away from making its points quickly and bluntly, providing a brisk running time of only 83 minutes. But the quick film also features some truly great performances and a deft directorial hand that turns the sometimes heavy-handed and goofy screenplay from Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen into an emotional journey.
The film focuses on Cody, played by a breakout Lucas Jaye in his feature debut of what I hope will be a long career. A lonesome kid, Cody is pulled from his home in Michigan to the middle of nowhere New York, he befriends his neighbor, the Korean War veteran Del, played by an excellent Brian Dennehy. Del is the rare kind of character that is written for a person like Dennehy, an older man who seems equally angry and lonely. On the surface, the character looks almost identical to Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, right down to the relationship he has with a young Asian boy. Unlike that film, this movie is not about violence or gangs or aggression or even overcoming racism. It is about simply humanism and friendship. The writing of the relationship between these two allows both to grow up, a coming of age tale not just for a child but a geriatric coming-of-age as well.
As great as Dennehy and Jaye are, however, it is Hong Chau’s performance as Kathy that stands out the most. We are introduced to Chau in the opening of the film without her saying a word, but the stamping out of a cigarette without her son seeing it and the unshaved armpits and the nose ring tell you so much about the character already. She is designed not to be just a movie star but to be a human. The dynamic between Kathy and her sister is forced onto the shoulders of one actress, but Chau does an excellent job taking the script and making it her own.
Andrew Ahn—an Independent Spirit Award-winner for his directing debut Spa Night—makes the banality of a rural New York summer into a beautiful background for the story. Even a series of bingo games becomes exciting, as does a very comedic scene where Cody watches boys watch wrestling. The cinematography from Spa Night collaborator Ki Jin Kim uses lighting in some fantastic ways that tell the story in their own right. A firework display echoes a war scene, and the lighting of a lamp becomes an emotionally charged moment of revelation.
Maybe a personal favorite trick of Driveways is how the characters never lie to Cody. Some truths are withheld but everyone is honest about their failings and feelings and their world with the boy. It is true of how Driveways feels of its audience as well. It doesn’t have a soft hand, but it tells its story and it tells it well. Chau, Dennehy, and Jaye are great storytellers, and Ahn utilizes them perfectly. The film, like the house at its center, may not look like much but it is very worth diving in.
Driveways premiered April 30th at the Tribeca Film Festival.