DRIVEWAYS: FILM REVIEW
Driveways is subtle; it slowly introduces you to the intertwined lives of an Asian-American single mother (Hong Chau), her 8-year old son (Lucas Jaye), a Korean War veteran next door neighbor (Brian Dennehy), and close ones who have passed away but remnants of their spirit are still felt.
Directed by Korean-American director Andrew Ahn, Driveways tells the story of a single mom named Kathy and her 8-year old son named Cody. Kathy brings Cody to a lively, yet peaceful suburban neighborhood to clean out her late sister’s home. Although it appears that Kathy was never really close with her sister, who was 12 years her senior, she becomes deeply affected by the house and its space. However, the real gem of the story is the relationship that forms between Cody and an old Korean War veteran named Del who lives next door. The willingness of Del and Cody to listen to each other’s stories and empathize despite their glaring age gap is ultimately what defines their special bond.
I am not usually one for slow films, and Driveways certainly did not incorporate many tense moments or storylines. However, Ahn’s careful crafting of each character’s life is what makes this film incredibly delicate. While a majority of the film focuses on Cody and the youthful way he perceives everything around him, Ahn ensures the viewer gets glimpses into intimate pieces of Del and Kathy’s life. There is almost nothing more heartbreaking than repeatedly watching a widowed old man eat alone in his empty home, and it is clear Ahn knows that. We see Kathy exhaustedly talk to Cody’s dad on the phone, annoyed by his questions that show he doesn’t listen nor care.
Ahn excels at using soft cinematography and painting wholly human characters that often bring humor to the table. The portrayal of Kathy’s white neighbor named Linda is particularly spot-on and amusing, as she tries her best not to be racist or cross boundaries, but she does anyways, even if without malice intentions. Linda asks the typical “Where are you from?” question and after Kathy says “Michigan,” it is not immediately clear if Linda will follow up with something like “No, where are you really from?”
Most impressive is this film’s ability to paint Cody as simultaneously innocent but not entirely naive. This becomes clear when Cody reads a magazine on Del’s porch addressed to “Val,” Del’s late wife. Without hesitation, Cody asks if she’s dead, and Del remorsefully responds with yes. Cody seems to be unbothered with his bluntness on topics like death (and occasionally blowjobs) even if the adults around him are grappling with death’s aftermath; for Kathy it’s the piles of stuff her sister hoarded in her private house and for Del it is Val. As young people, we expect that once we get older, death won’t be as jarring of a concept as we often perceive it to be. However, Driveways reveals the loneliness that death carries with it and the crunch of time that one feels once life is nearing its end. This is especially heartbreaking when at the end of the movie, Del reflects on how quickly the last few decades of his life have flown by. Little did I know at the time, but Brian Dennehy just passed away this April.
The subtlety of Driveways is also its strength. One moment you’re on a smooth bike ride down suburbia hills alongside Cody, and the next you’re clutching your fists hoping no one gets hurt. Driveways is deeply moving, as it brings together individuals who are in different stages of their life but are nevertheless able to empathize and connect over being human. At the end of the day, we all are.