The real thing Driveways has got going for it is its quiet power and simplicity.
I was able to watch this movie because of a program my local movie theaters are doing. They banded together in order to let out new releases for which you can buy virtual movie tickets. I got an online “movie ticket”, and supported my local theater all without leaving the home. Even though it wasn’t the thrill of “going to the movies” it was the next best thing. If your city does something similar, it might be worth checking out!
Driveways is about an Asian American family who moves into a dead relative’s home in order to clean it out. The family is made up of a mom Kathy (the estranged sister of April, the late relative) and Kathy son, Cody. Though it goes back and forth between both characters’ points of view, this seems to be mainly Cody’s story. We understand the predicament they find themselves in mostly through his eyes. It’s also a story of acceptance, being an outsider, and friendship.
They befriend their Korean-war-vet neighbor Del, who is significantly older than them. He is played by the late Brian Dennehy. This was his last movie, and it was fortunately a compelling and moving one.
So, what was so enjoyable about Driveways?
The Powerful Subtlety
Themes of loss, decay, and regret are treated with respect and aplomb. Directed Andrew Ahn gently guides the audience towards understanding the implications of losing a family member. A family member that not only left behind a fraught sibling relationship, but also a hoarder-level amount of belongings to sort through. In some ways, the cleaning of the house for Kathy was the reparation of the broken relationship between the two. By taking on the task, sifting through all of April’s possessions and staying in her home, she learns more about her sister than ever before. They didn’t know each other much as adults, but by bonding through her sister’s earthly possessions Kathy became friends with April, from beyond the grave. And the subtle message of understanding an eccentric family member and accepting them for who they are comes through.
The Simplicity of the Story
Not much happens in Driveways, taking more from everyday life than from a typical movie structure. Aside from minor difficulties, there was no major conflict in the movie. Instead, there were major internal conflicts. Those took the shape of feelings of regret, and that simply being alive was a conflict in its own right. The real estate agent was super helpful, Cody became friends with the neighbor instantly, etc… but the mom was also struggling emotionally with the weight of the house and its financial implications and Cody struggled with fitting it and finding a play partner. He eventually found one in their neighbor Del and they struck up a May-December friendship. The neighbor’s internal conflict is his fear of aging, and the regret he feels about his reaction for not supporting his daughter as much as he could have when she came out as a lesbian (many years beforehand). These issues are not fantastical. They are common problems which tap into a broader picture of simple, yet very human, experiences. The simplicity of the story, and the time dedicated to each character allows us to follow their struggle.
Driveways doesn’t speed up the process just so that it can fit into the framework of a bookended movie.
Lush setting and evocative score
Shot in Poughkeepsie, NY, the backdrop in Driveways is gorgeous: green, lush and full of bucolic shots of a pleasant summer. The richness in the nature surrounding them only enhances the powerful relationships. The movie almost seemed like it was lit through a green filter, creating a relaxing tone. The green tone could also symbolize the internal growth each character makes. Kathy decides she might want to stay in the house, Cody is no longer scared of playing with friends his own age, and Del accepts a change in his life. The setting therefore functions as a vehicle for the characters.
The score was a pleasant surprise. Much like the exterior, it created an ambiance of serenity, simplicity and emotion. [composer] manages to evoke the same feelings of growth, struggle, and regret that the characters go through.
A moving movie - ⭐⭐⭐⭐