Driveways was released on May 7, 2020
In Andrew Ahn’s second film Driveways, a young boy accompanies his mother to a small town in New York, and stumbles into an unlikely friendship with a Korean War veteran through a chance, but ultimately life-affirming encounter.
Cody is a ‘sensitive,’ obedient boy, who finds befriending children his age a real chore, and gives everyone a perpetual look of wince, as if struggling to stop himself from breaking into a mischievous grin any moment now. He worries about his single-mother who smokes like a chimney whenever he is out of her sight, and if caught red-handed, who endearingly calls him ‘professor.’
Our protagonist, Cody is an old soul, looking at life from a distance, as if he were peeking into a slightly ajar door with intense anticipation, knowing already that life on the other side is full of twists and turns.
Del, a Korean War veteran, has recently lost his wife and is now living out his life in a house that seems to be getting bigger and bigger with time. Despite crawling out of the grips of grief over his dead wife and overcoming the oppressive sense of suspense that had come with it, he feels defeated like a captain without his ship. The gruff old man, in his free time, plays Bingo with his war-time friends, who are also losing bits and pieces of themselves to dementia, mirroring his own frailty and decline.
Kathy, a single mother, is studying to be a nurse and trying to sell her recently deceased, reclusive sister’s house. She is wary of strangers and very protective of Cody. Kathy has the usual habit of looking over her shoulder as a smoker who is desperately trying to quit, of wearing a guilty look everywhere she goes, afraid that someone might notice all her vulnerabilities and failures, and condemn her for failing to conceal them better.
When Kathy moves to Del’s town to sell her estranged sister’s house, Cody discovers a unique connection with the old man who showers little acts of kindness on him, leaving behind an imprint of how friendship should look like. In the process, Del, a soldier at heart, accepts that he cannot fight his way through old age, and Cody learns to love in a world that seeks to crush his spirit for simply being who he is. Written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, Driveways examines small-town neighborhoods - the ties that for some of us last a lifetime and gracefully endure frequent assaults of time.
Spa Night director Andrew Ahn had cast Asian actors in the roles of Kathy and Cody, which might compel one to draw comparisons with Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Yet Driveways shares far more similarities with Kelly Reichardts’ slice-of-life films set in quiet, rural communities, where characters, under layers and layers of resignation and at times apathy, battle with the most powerful human emotions that never quite rise to a crescendo, yet without fail immerse the audiences in a cathartic cinematic experience -a feat that is hard to achieve.
In the background of Driveways, there are the lingering shadows of racism and homophobia, the stigma associated with mental illness, the burden of single-parenthood, the 2008 financial crisis pulling the rug from under many Americans, and so on. Ahn’s film succeeds by putting a human face on these themes, by shedding light on ordinary characters with their everyday struggles and triumphs, and by celebrating little moments of life, as if they were leaves on a stream, one watches from afar, slowly floating by.