Film Review: Driveways (NZIFF 2020)

How well do we really know our family? The sibling we haven’t spent much time with in adulthood but who we think of as being the same person we knew as a child, how do we reconcile realising we don’t know much about them at all?

Driveways opens to single mum Kathy (Hong Chau) and her 8-year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye) arriving from out of town into a quiet suburban neighbourhood to pack up the house of Kathy’s deceased sister April. Unbeknown to already somewhat jaded Kathy, who spends her days transcribing medical records in the hope to become a nurse, April was a hoarder. This forces the duo to spend a lot more time than the expected couple of days to pack up the house.

Directed by Andrew Ahn whose previous feature film Spa Night (2016) screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, the film is a gentle and contemplative consideration of familial and neighbourly connection, ageing and regret.

Cody is a sensitive child, especially mature for his age with anxiety issues that has him more comfortable in the company of adults reading newspapers than with the rough and tumble play of typical kids his own age. Cody strikes up a friendship with their elderly neighbour Del, played by the late great Brian Dennehy. Del is a retired veteran who spends his time since his wife passed away reading on his porch and playing bingo with his buddies at the local VFW. In Cody, Del is given the opportunity to show presence, acceptance and empathy in his relationship with a child, something he did not do so well when his own daughter was young. Del also has to deal with watching his friend Rodger (Jerry Adler) slip into dementia, forcing him to confront the not so easy realities of his own ageing. This is especially bittersweet given Dennehy’s recent passing at age 81.

The film does a light but nice job in calling casual racism to attention. Linda (Christine Ebersole), a well-meaning neighbour who is unaware of her own ignorance, comes over to introduce herself and talk about the neighbourhood while emphatically demonstrating that the statement “I’m not being racist or anything” always precedes a racist remark. Of Asian American descent, Kathy generously responds with a brusque ‘Michigan’ when asked where she is from to a caught off guard Linda.

The performances of both Chau and Jaye are exceptional. The mother and son bond they cultivate is touching in its realism. I’m well pleased to have caught this humble gem of a film.

Driveways is part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, showing online and at select theatres across the country. For online access/ticketing information, please go HERE.

Andy Baker