THE STORY – Kathy, a single mother, travels with her shy eight-year-old son, Cody, to Kathy’s late sister’s house which they plan to clean and sell. As Kathy realizes how little she knew about her sister, Cody develops an unlikely friendship with Del, the Korean War vet, and widower who lives next door.
THE CAST – Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye & Brian Dennehy
THE TEAM – Andrew Ahn (Director), Hannah Bos & Paul Thureen (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 83 Minutes
By Bianca Garner
We could all do with a comforting hug with what’s currently going on in the world. Loved ones have been separated, people have become isolated through no fault of their own, and a level of uncertainty hangs over us all. Luckily, Andrew Ahn’s “Driveways” has come along at the right time, and it’s the wonderful type of film that leaves a warm glow resonating throughout your entire soul. “Driveways” is Ahn’s second feature – his previous film “Spa Night” premiered at Sundance to critical praise and it went on to win the John Cassavetes Award as well as the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest. Ahn seems drawn to stories about the evolution of personal relationships and individuals discovering their identity. As a filmmaker, Ahn is certainly someone to keep an eye on.
“Driveways” tells the story of Kathy (Hong Chau), a single mother, who has traveled with her shy eight-year-old son, Cody (newcomer Lucas Jaye), to her late sister’s house which they plan to clean and sell. However, Kathy soon realizes how little she knew about her sister who was a hoarder. Cody comes out of his shell and develops an unlikely friendship with Del (Brian Dennehy), a Korean War vet and widower who lives next door. Over the course of a summer, we watch this unlikely friendship unfold, with both Cody and Del growing as individuals as well as Kathy’s relationship with her son developing as well.
On paper, the story of “Driveways” seems like one we have seen before. However, Ahn, and screenwriters Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, have managed to focus on creating fully-developed characters who feel very genuinely human. Ahn made the conscious decision to change the backgrounds of Kathy and Cody. Originally, Bos and Thureen had written the characters as all white, but when producers, Joe Pirro and James Schamus, brought the script to Ahn, he asked whether it was possible to make the mother and daughter Asian-American. This decision adds a much-needed layer and depth to the story as Kathy and Cody now feel even more like outsiders. There’s also another layer to Kathy’s backstory and family history with her sister, which possibly explains the reason why there’s the generational difference between the two.
Despite the familiarity of the narrative, it does feel strangely fresh and original, and we feel as if we are seeing this story through new eyes. While there is tragedy and melancholy that takes place in the film, “Driveways” never feels forced or melodramatic, nor does it ever feel emotionally manipulative. “Driveways” could have resorted to clichés and tropes, but Ahn approaches the story with a millennial perspective and point of view. This feels like a personal story, not just for the director, but also for the screenwriters; however, “Driveways” has a universal appeal.
The film is built upon the performances from the three main leads. Chau is superb as Kathy, and her character goes through her own identity crisis as she realizes that she didn’t really know her older sister. Kathy isn’t the typical “mothering” type as she swears in front of her son, however, she’s not a bad parent. There’s a wonderful dynamic to their relationship which is something rarely seen in film. Kathy is just human like the rest of us, she’s slightly over her head with the responsibilities of being a single parent, but she actively seems to be wanting to provide the best possible life for her child. “Driveways” shares a lot of similarities with Martin Scorsese’s underrated classic, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” with both films being honest portrayals of single parenthood.
Brian Dennehy as Del is also noteworthy. It could have been easy to make the character grumpy and unlikeable, but Dennehy shows a sensitive and tragic side to Del. Dennehy’s narrative feels slightly underdeveloped, and it would have been interesting to see more interactions between him and his adult daughter. Lucas Jaye is perhaps the MVP of the film, and he’s so charming that it isn’t hard to instantly warm to him. The film’s cinematographer, Ki Jin Kim, places us on the same level as Cody so we can easily identify with him, and as a result, we see the world through his eyes.
“Driveways” may suffer from obtaining a wider audience due to the strong language and mature dialogue that the characters use, and that would be a shame because I think younger viewers would benefit from watching this film. Ultimately, “Driveways” is very relevant because of its themes and message of looking out for your neighbor and forming new friendships. It’s hard not to be moved by the film’s ending, and luckily, Ahn doesn’t go down the usual route and instead offers us a sense of optimism for the future – something that I suspect we can all be grateful for.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A heart-warming and much-needed story that shows the power of friendship and features some very strong and noteworthy performances
THE OSCARS – None