What makes DRIVEWAYS particularly poignant is that it was Brian Dennehy’s last film before he died and his cinematic presence will be sorely missed. Written by Hannah and Paul Thureen, and superbly directed by Andrew Ahn, this is a tender story about new beginnings and how friendships can relieve the pain of isolation.
Kathy, soulfully played by Hong Cha, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, arrives in a suburban New York town from Grand Rapids, Michigan with her son 8-year-old son Cody, played by a very gifted Lucas Jaye. Their mission is to clean up the home in which Kathy’s sister April lived until her recent death. The home is cluttered with stuff piled up from floor to ceiling with not an inch of open space – a daunting task of getting the house ready to sell. To give you a visual point of view, think along the lines of Grey Gardens where Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin lived. Although the bones of April’s home might be salvageable, it is hard at first to see through the debris. As mother and son arrive, the next-door neighbor Del, a lonely Korean War vet, brilliantly portrayed by Brian Dennehy, who gives a powerfully interior performance, watches quietly from his porch. A widower, he eats alone every night, intimately captured by Paul Thureen’s delicate cinematography, which closes in on Del’s loneliness. His daughter Lisa is a judge in Seattle and is trying to find housing for him so they can be closer to each other. The initial relationship between Kathy and Del doesn’t start off so pleasantly, but Cody, a very sensitive, vulnerable child, immediately bonds with him and that relationship is the basic building block of the story. One way that Del fills his time is to play bingo with friends at the VFW and when Del’s friend Rodger, played by an adorable Jerry Adler, forgets to show up to drive him to the center, Kathy jumps in and takes him there. Now because bingo is a form of gambling, the “caller” insists that Cody must leave. There is a big “discussion” and he finally relents and allows the young boy to stay. It is at the VFW center that we meet Del’s other good friend Lester, well played by Stan Carp. However, the relationship between Del and Rodger is particularly close and there are some funny scenes between them. Meanwhile, Cody and Kathy, who does medical transcriptions and is studying to be a nurse, have been staying at a motel but soon it becomes too expensive. She and her son clean out the front porch and that becomes their sleeping quarters. The task of getting rid of the clutter begins in earnest and little by little, they begin to clear out the mess. In between times, Cody would walk over to Del’s porch and each of them would get absorbed in their reading material while looking over once in a while to make sure make everything is okay. Another neighbor named Linda (Christine Ebersole) shows up one day with her two grandsons, Brandon (Jack Caleb) and Reese, (James DiGiacomo) who you just know are not nice kids. She invites Cody over to play with them and the evening does not end well.
This is an emotionally, quietly powerful affecting film, depicting how Del and Cody’s loneliness becomes a pathway to forming a quietly loving relationship. The writing accomplishes this with a minimum of dialogue. It’s also about life’s transitions and friendship which, in only an 83-minute film, captures the essence of each. Ahn’s subtle directing allows his characters to basically find each other and we see how they bond out of a sense of loneliness. One of the joyous moments of the film is the birthday party Kathy organizes for her son at the local skating rink, which turns out to be a failure. Del comes to the rescue and transforms it into a joyous celebration of this special kid.
So here we are with new beginnings and endings – for each of these three principal characters have experienced both. What is particularly sad, is that one of our great American actors, Brian Dennehy, who appeared in 180 films as well as television and theatre productions, is no longer with us, but his body of work, especially his Oscar-worthy performance in “Driveways,” will live in cinematic memory.
Release Date: Current
Where: USA – VOD
Music composed by Jay Wadley
Running Time: 83 Minutes