Despite his towering presence, Brian Dennehy understood the importance of the small details that made his characters who they were. Regardless of the type of role he would play you always got a sense of their humanity, and it comes as no surprise that his passing a few weeks ago was felt by so many. Even in sleepy films like Driveways that struggle to raise much of a pulse, Dennehy still manages to add meaning with the smallest of looks and the fewest of words.
Directed by Andrew Ahn – who came to attention with his debut feature Spa Night – this is another coming-of-age film by the director that has an easy-to-warm-to gentleness. There’s an unfussy approach used to tell a very simple story (with some nice touches by DoP Ki Jin Kim), avoiding any moments of high drama to focus primarily on the characters themselves – although the script does feel a little sparse and its themes suffer as a result.
Hong Chau is Kathy, single mother to 8-year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye). They are travelling across country to a small suburban New York town to finalise the affairs of Kathy’s recently deceased sister. She’s taken on the job of clearing a home that is filled to the brim with clutter and unneeded possessions. Next door is Del (Dennehy), a Korean War vet who now lives alone after his wife passed away some years ago, and in-between sitting on his porch occasionally heads out to play bingo with his fellow veteran pals.
Ahn’s film quickly establishes a laid back pace in a story that takes place across a single summer. Seen primarily through the eyes of Cody, he strikes up a poignant friendship with Del, with the young boy looking towards the older man as a father figure of sorts, while filling an empty hole in the pensioner’s lonely day-to-day existence. Their bond acts as the centrepiece of the narrative, with the introverted and sensitive Cody feeling understood by the presence of someone else also used to living inside their own head – even if the age gap extends across several decades.
By avoiding nearly all sense of plot the passing of time is barely noticed, and the longer Cody and his mother remain in town, the easier it becomes to fall into Ahn’s relaxed storytelling rhythm. It can’t help but feel a little too slight as a result, with nods towards themes of old age, loss and regret largely falling by the wayside (a final speech by Del does hit home thanks to Dennehy) but it maintains your attention for the brief 80 minute runtime and benefits from a good cast. Jay Wadley’s score adds some nice touches on occasion, although it could have been used more liberally.
Young Jaye is given the bulk of the work to do as he connects the threads between his mum, her sister and Del living next door. His relaxed performance is a good fit with Ahn’s style and complements the frayed anxiousness displayed by Chau as his mother. Even some of the smaller roles have their moments, such as the nosy neighbour eager to take a poke around Kathy’s sister’s property (“I’m not being racist, but…” she says to Kathy about the local Mexican community). Driveways may not linger in your mind beyond the final credits but nonetheless it’s a warm and friendly affair that offers a pleasant diversion from the norm.
Driveways is available to watch on VOD from May 7.