2020, NR, 83 min. Directed by Andrew Ahn. Starring Brian Dennehy, Lucas Jaye, Hong Chau, Christine Ebersole, Jerry Adler, Jeter Rivera.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 29, 2020
The late Brian Dennehy was a giant of cinema, television, and theatre, and that's a term that doesn't get bandied easily. He was one of the all-time great heavies in films like First Blood, evil personified in To Catch a Killer, and both a definitional interpreter of Willy Loman in his rightfully lauded performances for stage and TV in Death of a Salesman, and unequaled in his grasp of Eugene O'Neill, having played multiple parts in differing productions of The Iceman Cometh.
What Dennehy grasped was people – what made them tick. His performances were never one-note, but understood that joy, grief, and and oft-ignored emotions like resignation could all be contained within a character. He was a big man, but he could keep his performances small, and so it's fitting that one of his final performances, Driveways, is so tiny and fragile that you'll feel like it can fit into your hands.
He plays Del, a Korean War veteran in a small town whose days are spent on his porch, his evenings playing bingo at the VFW, and his nights by himself. The porch is where he meets Cody (Jaye), a kid who has been dragged halfway across the country one summer by his mother Kathy (Downsizing's Chau, a wonderful mix of nervous caution and maternal exhaustion) to clean out her dead sister's house. Cody's awkward, one of those kids that doesn't really fit in with other kids, and a tiny gesture from Del is enough to bond them.
That's really all these is to Driveways: A young boy and an old man become friends one summer, as spring and fall meet and part ways. Slight but nonetheless engaging, Driveways evokes what it means to be home – that ineffable sense of belonging, of flowering. Dennehy grasped that so completely, with his sense of what he has lost and what can be gained. Dennehy's Del is built of kindnesses, all rooted in the certainty that he can only do what he can do. He's not a cliche or a cartoon, pulling gifts and wonders out of a hat. Instead, it's the way he walks, slowly, unevenly after Cody when the boy's upset, and the tiny moment of compassion that he shares with Kathy.
There's no drama or even melodrama here. Instead, this is just a small and very human piece, anchored around small and very human moments. We live with impermanence and regret, but that's not what all that we are. Whether we are Cody getting taken seriously for once, or Del seeing those last flashes of daylight before his sun sets, or even Kathy, quietly absorbing parts of her life she never understood, there is something and someone here with whom everyone can associate.
Driveways is currently available through FilmRise's initiative whereby streaming “tickets” can be bought through virtual ticket booths for local art house cinemas. Choose from:
• Violet Crown Cinema (tickets here)