Directed by Andrew Ahn, written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, a lonesome boy accompanies his mother on a trip to clean out his late aunt’s house, and ends up forming an unexpected friendship with the retiree who lives next door. Starring: Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye, Brian Dennehy, Christine Ebersole, Jeter Rivera, Sophia DiStefano, Jerry Adler and Robyn Payne.
There have been several films over the years of young, lonely kids finding friendship with their elderly neighbours and it’s always a pure, kind and frank relationship which this film captures extremely well. However, it’s not the only theme of the film, it does also explore loss, grief, anxiety, dementia, family relationships and prejudice. It’s a film that plays its hand honestly and sincerely, there isn’t any flash or glamour, it’s a down to earth drama with positive messages.
Hong Chau and Lucas Jaye, as mother and son make a charming family, they both have strong individual personalities and the open and candid relationship that they have is really sweet to watch. Introducing the late, great Brian Dennehy as Del, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the elderly veteran neighbour would be grumpy, aggressive or even racist but he’s far from it, providing a stable, simple friendship for Cody (Jaye) just when he needs it. Again, it’s another relationship that’s delightful to watch unfold, it’s basic human kindness and something you would think would be rather common but films don’t often take the time to follow such a simple act. Ebersole is a nice addition as the classically prejudiced neighbour who has no idea of boundaries when it comes to her nosiness. The fairly unknown Robyn Payne adds a big note of empathy and makes a genuine impression in her brief time on screen, she’s had bit parts on various TV shows but this quick appearance shows she has more to offer and hopefully will get the chance to do so.
The charm of this film has a lot to do with it offering lessons on how generosity and the simple act of listening can impact other people’s lives so positively. It’s explored in many different ways and one of the most gentle and respectful is how it deals with Del’s friend Roger (Adler) and his dementia; there’s no confrontation or personal revelations, Del simply alters his behaviour and increases the attention he pays, to compensate and care for him, in the small ways that he can. All the issues that it handles are entirely relevant but a very interesting one is the unspoken conflict that occurs when elderly parent’s children want to move them into a facility where they can be closer and cared for, but it requires them to leave the home that they spent a lifetime building. It’s especially an issue when the partner they built that life with is no longer with them, pressing the issue of feeling like they’re walking away from those memories, it’s an internal conflict that is likely affecting a lot of older generations in the world currently. It’s great that they didn’t introduce Del and not give him a story of his own, it adds more depth to him and to the story as a whole. It’s also very interesting to watch as Kathy (Chau) realises how much she didn’t know about her sister, now she no longer has the chance to help and reflects on the now insignificant issue that stopped her from having a relationship with her sister for the remainder of her life. Every aspect that the film delves into are very everyday problems and struggles, it’s inherently relatable and humble.
Ahn’s directorial style feels personal, it’s only his second feature but it has a very gentle and honest touch to it, something which shouldn’t be undervalued because there’s many a director out there who struggles with authenticity in drama. That style draws you in with its wholesome themes, it’s modern but portraying classic values of kindness and generosity. The cinematography (by Ki Jin Kim) gives it a very small community type feel, it never strays far and keeps a strong focus in a relaxed rather than intense manner.
Driveways has that effortless sweetness of the special relationship that a single mother and her young son can have, and certainly do in this film. It’s full of examples of how the slightest gesture can ease some of life’s hardships and how unlikely friendships can blossom and make a hugely positive impact. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that life isn’t perfect, it takes into account the minutiae and daily difficulties people have but does so in a way that’s down to earth, rather than trying to make a gritty or depressing story. It’s wholly a lovely experience, it’s full of kindness and understanding, it has a strong genuine air and is packed with sincere performances. It’s not all about happy endings and finding your place, in the end it’s about making the best of things and appreciating what you have.