After the death of her estranged sister, single mother Cathy (Hong Chau) must relocate to the suburbs of New York to clean out her empty house. She soon finds that the woman she grew up with but barely knew kept her neighbours at a similar arm’s length – but hoarded her possessions beyond belief. Meanwhile, her eight-year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye), whose naturally shy and sensitive nature makes social interaction a challenge at the best of times, finds companionship in the lonely widower next door, Del (Brian Dennehy).
Director Andrew Ahn follows up his feature-length debut Spa Night – which focused on the sexual awakening of a young gay man living in LA – with a gentler tale of human compassion and the kindness of strangers. Though thematically worlds apart, the two films both showcase Ahn’s ability to succinctly and evocatively capture the essence of what it is to be human, gifting us a nuanced portrait of all the characters we come across. It’s a rare talent and one which makes for compelling, patiently moving cinema full of awkwardness, authenticity and playful humour.
Throughout Driveways’ 83-minute runtime, Ahn softly prods and explores various different threads: the daily challenges facing a single parent; the awkwardness of youth; the tragedy of transience; the fragility of life. Indeed, every person who appears onscreen – from Del’s increasingly senile friend Roger (Jerry Adler) to his successful daughter Lisa (Samantha Jones) to the unconsciously racist and overbearing neighbour Linda (Christine Ebersole) – adds another little window of insight into the complex and confusing patchwork quilt of humanity, rather than simply progressing the plot. This alone is testament to the strength of the scriptwriting.
But while these small but meaningful touches add flavour to the film, the real meat lies with the blossoming friendship (a la St Vincent) between Cody and Del. Newcomer Jaye shows considerable chops to sidestep falling into a cutesy cliché, while Dennehy is outstanding as the war veteran who’s had a lifetime to reflect upon his mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future. Those who thirst for greater action and impetus in their cinema forays might find the story a little simplistic and sluggish, but anyone who enjoys a life-affirming, character-based stroll through small-town America is sure to go home with cockles well and truly warmed.