Driveways (2020)

“Why didn’t we see her?”

Heartfelt, present, incredibly personal. Driveways is the kind of movie that softly kneads its way into your soul, almost like a parent massaging Vicks salve onto your chest while sick, and it delivers deeply penetrating ruminations on the journey of life in ways both conventional and sincerely understanding. That’s what I love about well done quotidian movies; we’ve seen Driveways before, probably ten times over, but there’s still a specificity and a personality to this story entirely its own. You can’t fake this level of authenticity. No wonder I watched it twice in the span of 36 hours. What a miraculous little motion picture.

Kathy (Hong Chau, remarkable here) drives as her son Cody (Lucas Jaye) sits shotgun. He stares at his tablet and eats Bugles off his fingertips, as imaginative kids are prone to do. She looks at the open road, dreading their final destination. They’re off to Aunt April’s home, located in a small New York town. She has recently passed, and as the pair come to realize, has left plenty of baggage in her wake. It’s understandable that Kathy should feel so overwhelmed, both by the grief of a troglodyte sister she didn’t really know and by all of the hoarded items she amassed. Meanwhile, since Cody is a bit of a loner and an old soul, he takes a shine to Del (Brian Dennehy), the elderly widow next door. There’s something for everyone to find on this street, to explore and discover in this achingly gentle film.

Del epitomizes the definition of a happy hermit, even if it isn’t by choice. He recognizes passing cars by ear, how the sun hits the floor through a certain window at a certain time, and best of all knows how neighbors should treat each other. I guess he’s just old fashioned in that way. And the real joy is how the film never manipulates the mundane into the maudlin, but instead always faces honest to goodness dramatic truths with strength and dignity. Driveways is a character study told from multiple vantage points, navigating numerous paved lanes, and communicated through the eyes of the characters. It’s beautifully simple, sublime stuff.

In one of his final film roles, the late great Brian Dennehy delivers an outstanding tip of the cap performance, showcasing the sheer presence and the empathy so obvious in so much of his work over the course of his more than five decades acting. It’s truly Oscar worthy, tailor made for a physically imposing man willing to play things small (I’m not sure many actors from his generation could’ve pulled this off with such grace…the legendary James Garner might have, yet he was 10 years Dennehy’s senior), and he fills us with warmth and compassion. You get the sense that he was just being himself as Del, embodying who he was as a man, and if that’s the case I can’t imagine a better way to cement a well earned legacy. What a way to be remembered.

Driveways is a film about regret, the passing of time and of people. About the secrets we share and those we keep. How we pull into the drive of a house and make it a home, and how the whole process is repeated by a new soul the second we’ve reversed into the street towards a new destination. It’s why I love the title so much; driveways take many shapes and forms, but they’re always literal introductions to a place. Sometimes it’s rough from gravel, sometimes it’s easy and paved. The road can be long or it can be steps from the front door. Driveways is the vehicle which pulls us into a place – through director Andrew Ahn’s brilliant film – that has the potential to be a home. Maybe that’s because it feels good to get attached to goodness, to cling to kindness, to find friendship in the unlikeliest of faces. We all need a place to experience that sensation. It’s even better when a loved one pulls into the drive. That’s when a house becomes a home.

“This is too much for one person.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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