In a perfect world, the word Driveways would have been proclaimed as awards season arrived and we all would have breathed a sigh of relief knowing that this was just and this was good and this was right.
In a perfect world, Brian Dennehy would be here now. He would basking in his awards season glow and a new generation of moviegoers and television watchers would be watching Dennehy's work.
Alas, the world is not perfect and nary a soul has even heard of the criminally underrated Driveways. Dennehy has left this earth and left behind a legacy far lengthier than just this film yet definitely including this late career work of wonder. I have known Dennehy's work my entire life from his Screen Actors Guild and Emmy Award-winning turn in 2000 as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman through his two Tony Award wins and five Primetime Emmy Award nominations and all the way to this film, one of his last films before his death on April 15, 2020 from cardiac arrest related to sepsis.
Brian Dennehy was a gentle giant and the world is a lesser place without him.
We feel all of these things even in the opening moments of Andrew Ahn's sophomore effort Driveways, a film that feels like that "blink and you'll miss it town" that you're so glad you didn't miss because it's a wonderful place to visit.
I loved every moment of Driveways, a bit of a rarity these days having entered my 50's and having seen and reviewed, quite literally, thousands of films in my life. I enjoy films, of course, otherwise I wouldn't do what I do. However, it is rare that I feel truly immersed in a filmmaker's vision yet this is precisely what occurs with Driveways. Dennehy is, for the most part, a supporting player here yet a key one. Dennehy was always one of Hollywood's best ensemble actors as he had a gift for disappearing within the tapestry of a story.
This is what happens in Driveways.
Driveways is actually centered around 8-year-old Cody (Lucas Jaye), a shy young boy who has meandered into town alongside his mother Kathy (Hong Chau). Kathy is a task-minded sort focused almost solely on clearing out her elder sister's home after her passing and then getting back on with life. She quickly learns things won't be quite that simple as her sister was, unknown to her, a bit of a hoarder and an eccentric soul living on a street of eccentric souls.
Things will take time.
Dennehy's Del is the next-door neighbor, an even quieter eccentric soul. A widowed Korean war vet whose hunkering down is so committed that it practically feels as if he's dug himself a biological foxhole, Del isn't nearly the dramatic mystery that we think he's going to be but Dennehy creates worlds often without saying a single word. There is a tension between Del and Kathy not because of what we think it might be, but simply because both are isolative souls making noise.
There isn't an awful lot that unfolds in Driveways.
This is refreshing.
There's not a lot that needs to happen. More often than not in life, it's the mundane moments shape who we are and provide glimpses of joy and devastations of the heart. Director Andrew Ahn seems to get this and he certainly finds it in the script penned by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. By the end of Driveways, you're feeling it but you may not exactly be clear why.
Cody is lonely. Del is lonely.
Both seem to be content being lonely. Sometimes life happens, though. Sometimes, a little bit of love creeps in where you didn't think it could. You've resigned yourself to the reality that you're alone now until someone proves you wrong.
If we're lucky, someone proves us wrong.
Cody and Del form something resembling a friendship, though for the most part it's genteel in presentation.
As I reflect on Driveways, I see a bit of a relationship to the Justin Timberlake-led film Palmer. It felt like Palmer didn't quite trust its story and there was more drama than there needed to be to tell the story.
Driveways is different. Dennehy would have filmed Driveways in his late 70's and there's a certain familiarity with the life journey that he wears in every scene. He understands the importance of these moments and he infuses that in Del. He also infuses that in the myriad of ways in which Del interacts with Kathy and Cody and the world around him.
It's simple yet profound.
I'm tempted to keep praising Dennehy's work here. I suppose it's a combination of processing grief and a genuine love for the performance, though it's more than a little unfair given the wonder of this ensemble cast. Lucas Jaye is simple yet extraordinary as Cody, embodying the fragility of human isolation and the tiptoe toward something resembling connection.
Hong Chau reminds us that her acclaimed breakthrough in Downsizing wasn't a fluke. We get glimpses, or at least a glimpse, of her marriage and we watch her dynamics with her son. We realize that she's arrived to a home and discovered a sister she never really knew. But, Chau's turn as Kathy makes it clear that we're not watching side stories but instead watching Kathy live in the world that she's given.
Then, of course, there's Dennehy. Dennehy was perhaps always best at these understated roles despite a career where his larger than life characters, I'm thinking First Blood for example, always got the most attention. Watching Dennehy is a masterclass in acting within the silence. Few actors have done it better and Dennehy seldom did it better than he does it here.
There are other moments of perfection here.
Lensing by Ki Jin Kim is exceptional throughout. There are times that I found myself watching Driveways and absolutely mesmerized by its beauty. There's no fancy camera work here. There needn't be. It's simple. It's sublime. It's perfect.
Jay Wadley's original music is similarly wondrous in the way that it's woven into the fabric of this cinematic tapestry.
Katie Mcquerrey's editing reminds us that editing should always be done in service to the characters and the story they are telling while Charlotte Royer's production design creates a world that embraces its familiarity and the various places these characters call home along the way.
Again, I can say it again and again, I loved every moment of Driveways.
Driveways isn't simply a feel-good film, because seldom is life simply a feel-good life. Driveways feels both good and real. It feels both aching and exhilarating.
This is life.
Picked up by FilmRise after a successful festival journey, Driveways may not get the acclaim and visibility it deserves but it is fortunately still a film you can see for yourself and, indeed, is a film you should see for yourself through your favored streaming outlet.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic