As we’ve been stuck in quarantine, we’ve done our absolute best to not only book the best programming available for our Virtual Movie Palace, but also find the most appropriate films in these uncertain times. Though Art House programming never promises to be the most uplifting content, you can always rely on its personal touch, it’s artful design, and its ability to go against the grain and deny certain expectations. Lucky for you, we’ve got a new film that does all that, AND manages to put a smile on your face. Coming to you with some much-needed sunshine is Driveways, now playing from Director Andrew Ahn and starring the young and talented, Lucas Jaye, Hong Chau, and the late Brian Dennehy who passed away just over three weeks ago.
On paper you may think you already understand Driveways. A young and lonely boy forms an unexpected friendship with an aging war veteran next door, and through their bond, they both come to learn something from the other. Certainly, the film relates to Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, but this is a much kinder and gentler version that does affirm some of those expectations, but thankfully leans away from the dramatic troupes that films of this milieu tend to assault the audience with. It doesn’t rely on swelling music or melodramatic circumstances to emotionally manipulate you, but rather takes a more empathetic approach and puts the characters in situations you can relate to. I think most of us might remember the difficulties of making friends as kids or can relate to the pain of losing a loved one, and just as these characters are there for each other in difficult times, this film is here for you.
In fact, let me just throw out this tiny, reassuring spoiler for you: nobody dies in this movie and it’s delightful, especially for us now. But that’s not to say there aren’t any sad or dramatic moments in the film. Because, certainly, if you’re of the type that tends to cry in movies, this one will probably get a hold of you, especially in the final moments when Dennehy gives the monologue of his career. As Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “It’s dumb to measure the worth of anything by its ability to make you cry, but by the end of “Driveways” the feelings of the characters spill over into your own experience of watching a small, very quiet, very powerful 83-minute short story of a movie.”
From Brian Dennehy, known for his gruff and tough presence on screen in films such as First Blood, Cocoon, and Silverado, what’s delivered is his most subdued, emotional and personal performance to date. In many ways, it’s comparable to DeNiro’s in The Irishman, in that they both hit the screen with a reputation to act with a certain magnitude, but instead enter their character with a gentle ease as people in the twilight of their years. Beside Dennehy is the precocious Lucas Jaye, just 9-years-old but so extremely natural in his delivery that you can’t help but wonder where the actor ends, and the character begins. He’s gingerly articulate beyond his years, thus receives the nickname “Professor” from his mother, and makes a beautifully sincere pairing with Dennehy. And from Hong Chau, playing Lucas Jaye’s mother, she completes this odd trinity as the loving, maternal figure with a hard, yet non-destructive edge. She’s extremely believable as a loving mother, doing her absolute best with the circumstances thrown at her, while also gifted with by the screenwriters with an honest, non-judgmental depth as we see her find relief in cigarettes and alcohol. When she comforts her son, you believe she is an honest and loving mother, and when she orders an MGD with a shot of whiskey, you also believe that’s her drink. It’s a blend of personality that doesn’t often meld together so well in movies.
As we’ve entered May, Driveways is a soothing indicator that Summer has arrived. It’s a sweet, reassuring coming-of-age tale that we often see at the movies around this season, and if we receive more just like it later this Summer, we’ll be grateful. I wish we could see this one together, but it won’t be too much longer. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel, and this film makes that light feel warmer with each passing minute.