“Driveways” has to be one of the most quietly moving films of the year, full of special moments that are reminiscent of “To Kill a Mockingbrird,” but without that film’s overt backdrop of racism and injustice.
This time, the special moments aren’t between Atticus Finch and his precocious daughter Scout, who’s coming to understand the racial dynamics of Jim Crow Alabama. Instead, the moments are between a young Asian-American boy named Cody (Lucas Jaye) and an older man named Del (the late Brian Dennehy).
Filmed in Poughkeepsie, New York, “Driveways” is directed with subtlety and insight by Andrew Ahn, based on a script by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. It’s Ahn’s second feature film, after 2016’s “Spa Night,” which dealt with a closeted Korean-American teenager who visits a Los Angeles spa.
Some of the same themes from “Spa Nights” underlie “Driveways,” but in less obvious ways. For instance, Cody is unusually sensitive and seems to wince when he’s asked questions by adults, as if he doesn’t want to offend. He’s awfully shy, and would prefer to play video games than interact with kids his own age.
He’s in this New York town as a visitor with his mother Kathy (Hong Chau), who has come to put her late sister’s house on the market. When Kathy arrives at the home, which she has never visited before because of family estrangement, she discovers that her sister was a hoarder, with various objects stacked to the ceilings. It will be a huge task to clean the house and get rid of the clutter, and what Kathy thought might be a quick job turns into a major ordeal.
Cody doesn’t want to get in her way, and he stands in the background as his mother tries to clear a spot on the screened-in front porch where they can camp out as she prepares to tackle the cleaning project.
Watching over their travails is Del, an older widower, who sits on his front porch and looking at his life go by. But he realizes that Kathy and Cody have no electricity in their house. So he quietly runs an extension chord from his house to theirs — and a lifeline is extended in a time of need.
Del doesn’t have many friends, and he warns Kathy and Cody about certain nosy neighbors. The only time he seems to leave his home is when one of his fellow veterans of the Korean War comes by to take him to the grocery or to the occasional bingo game at the VFW.
It may sound rather contrived, but Cody and Del become friends, and Del imparts gentle wisdom in quiet conversations on his front porch — and as Kathy tries to get the house in shape for re-sale.
As you watch the various character interactions, you realize that Del sees Cody as the beautiful but fragile soul that he is. And Del tries to give hints about what might be ahead. Cody, meanwhile, seems like the classic gay kid who will soon learn that he’s facing discrimination for being Asian-American — and also for his sexual orientation. Del knows about this — not because he’s gay, of course, but because of his past.
The revelations come without fanfare, just through quiet conversations. It’s a beautiful film, featuring one of Dennehy’s best performances. It’s streaming on the Austin Film Society’s website, www.austinfilm.org.
If you get a chance, you won’t regret watching this little jewel.
Starring: Brian Dennehy, Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye
Directed by Andrew Ahn
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes