⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes
Stars: Brian Dennehy, Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye, Christine Ebersole
Writers Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen
Director: Andrew Ahn
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As gentle and sweetly endearing a film as you will find, director Andrew Ahn’s tale of a lonely eight-year-old boy (Lucas Jaye) who befriends the elderly Korean War vet next door (the late Brian Dennehy) is defiantly positive; a big wet kiss on the lips of a world that normalizes cynicism and celebrates conflict.
We meet young Cody as his single mom (Big Little Lies’ Hong Chau) is driving from their Wisconsin home to Upstate New York, where she must settle the affairs of her late sister.
What they find is an appalling sprawl of broken furniture and old newspapers: The sister was a pathological hoarder. It will take months to clean the place out and get it ready for sale.
Observing the process from the porch next door is Del, an octogenarian widower who becomes pals with Cody — largely because he has little else to do.
At this point, seasoned filmgoers will start writing their own script as the setup unfolds: Of course Del will be a grumpy old racist. Of course he will rail against these new Asians invading his neighborhood, especially after he spent his youth fighting them in the jungle. And of course his heart of stone will be melted, if only a little bit, by the inherent goodness of the minority folks next door.
But we ‘ve already seen that movie — it was called Gran Torino, and it starred Clint Eastwood. No, writers Hanna Bos and Paul Thureen (Mozart in the Jungle) have something very different in mind here. It turns out Del is a gentle soul, and if he’s taken note of his young neighbor’s race, he doesn’t let on. He is immediately helpful, as are the rest of the neighbors — including a friendly busybody, nicely played by Christine Ebersole. The local kids are a bit rambunctious, but not all that bad. Del’s daughter turns up to convince him to move to Seattle with her, but she’s not pushy about it. The fact is, like most of us, the characters in Driveways could certainly drum up reasons to be unhappy, or bitter, or angry — but each and every one of them makes a conscious decision to resist the temptation to slip into the trap of willful despair.
Not since Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has the company of genuinely good people, facing life with optimism and open hearts, seemed so compelling.
You can browse through Brian Dennehy’s 180-plus movies and TV shows and find just a handful of leading roles among them. A film like Driveways, enlivened by his understated portrayal of a quietly thoughtful veteran, makes you wish he’d had more. Still, there’s no denying he made a pretty good career of popping up in supporting roles, always leaving the audience wanting more.
Dennehy made three more movies after he finished Driveways, but this is the first of them to be released following his sudden death April 15 at age 81. I happened to be at the U.S. premiere of Driveways during last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Dennehy was there, looking somewhat frail sitting in a director’s chair while the rest of the cast and crew stood. But he spoke animatedly about the film — and especially about director Andrew Ahn’s subdued approach to the delicately crafted script.
“Everybody’s so damned worried these days about making sure the camera is always moving,” Dennehy said in his familiar, no-nonsense manner. “God only knows it’s spinning around so much in most movies it makes you dizzy as hell.
“But the important thing in movies is this: What happens to the people? This film is about the characters: About a kid just beginning his life and an old guy getting ready to leave.
“I was really happy to do it.”
The actor seemed old, but not unhealthy, that night. Certainly, few of us there suspected that, like Del, Dennehy was also getting ready to leave. Driveways is a fine monument to remember him by.
Featured image: Brian Dennehy and Lucas Jaye (Credit: FilmRise)
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