The 400-Word Review: Driveways
By Sean Collier
April 16, 2020
There’s an old “Simpsons” bit in which Lisa is trying to convince a skeptical stranger of a jazz musician’s merits. “You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing,” Lisa says.
“I can do that at home,” the curmudgeon replies.
Trying to praise “Driveways” is a similar challenge. It’s certainly a good movie. Its quality, however, is found less in what it does than in what it refuses to do.
Hong Chau gives a grounded performance as Kathy, a single mother whose estranged sister has just died. Kathy brings her precocious, nervous son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), to her late sibling’s home, hoping to quickly clean and put it on the market. That emerges as a tall order; as it turns out, Kathy’s sister had quietly become a hoarder. The house is overflowing with useless belongings, garbage and (the eternal hoarding signifier) a dead cat in the bathtub.
As their stay extends, Cody has tentative interactions with the kids in the neighborhood — a pair of macho hellions provide a stark counterpoint to his sensitive nature — but only bonds with Del (Brian Dennehy), a mild-mannered widower and Korean War veteran who lives next door. Cody is a welcome jolt of energy and verve for the reticent old man; Del is a friend Cody doesn’t feel he has to keep up with or impress.
In most reviews, I cut off a plot description at about this point to avoid spoilers. But in the case of “Driveways,” there’s not much to spoil; that’s really about it. It’s a short film — a mere 83 minutes, lightning-quick in our protracted cinematic moment — and it does not care to throw many unexpected twists at its characters.
That’s what I mean when I praise the things “Driveways” does not do. We never flash back to examine the life of Kathy’s sister. We meet some of Del’s VFW buddies; I was guessing one would die in a manufactured moment of poignance, but none did. I was expecting an unnecessary epilogue; instead, the credits rolled.
“Driveways” is small, bittersweet and kind. Chau and Dennehy give lovely but understated, unshowy performances; Dennehy’s turn is poignant in light of his recent passing. Still, that’s not a description that vaunts a film to the awards podium; it is, however, a welcome change of pace from melodrama and constant action. Most films are hurricanes; “Driveways” is a pleasant breeze.
My Rating: 7/10
“Driveways” is available as a virtual cinema selection at many independent theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch it from home via Row House Online or many other independent cinemas; a portion of your ticket purchase will go to keep theaters afloat during the pandemic.