2019 Mill Valley Film Festival, Lark Theater
Directed by Andrew Ahn, Driveways (2019) is a thoroughly charming character piece that begins with a road trip but quickly settles down in the suburbs of New York state. Visually engaging, it captivated the audience at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
In the film, single mom Kathy (Hong Chau) and her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye) travel across country to the home of her recently deceased older sister. The house is filled to the brim with junk so they stay at a motel until they’re low on money and start camping on the porch. She calls Cody “Professor” and it’s apparent that besides being wise beyond his years, he’s painfully sensitive.
Adapted from a screenplay by playwrights Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, director Ahn suggested to the producers that Kathy and Cody become Asian. That casting decision adds another layer of meaning to the story. This was done, however, without having to change the script to reflect their newfound ethnicity. There’s an unspoken truism in Hollywood that Asian American viewers can relate to white characters but not the reverse. This film should dispel that idea. Because of the casting, at least one reviewer saw this as an immigrant story though it’s clearly not. The dour Kathy doesn’t have an Asian accent (like the one Chau used in Downsizing ) and she’s from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kathy and Cody don’t experience racism directly. A nosey neighbor named Linda, played by Broadway legend Christine Ebersole, does remark unsubtly about “those people,” Hispanic immigrants, moving in across the way.
Larger than life Brian Dennehy plays Del, the taciturn next door neighbor. Army vet Del is imposing but has a gentility far removed from the angry old white guy Kathy immediately pegs him as. His friendship with Cody develops as he guides the boy through a series of challenging incidents. There’s also an amusing beer and bingo birthday party with Del’s VFW buddies. Director Ahn commented he was touched by Dennehy’s devotion to his craft and openness to being inspired by his young co-star. Jerry Adler (The Sopranos) is terrific in an uncredited role as one of the bingo pals whose short term memory is fading but who can still recite dramatic verse.
Director of photography: Ki Jin Kim
Production designer: Charlotte Royer
Costume designer: Matthew Simonelli
Editor: Katherine McQuerrey
Music: Jay Wadley
Casting: Avy Kaufman
Additional screening 10/12 6:15pm Century Larkspur