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Dennehy shines in the intimate ‘Driveways’

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Bigger isn’t always better.

It’s easy to forget in a world where cinematic bombast is all the rage, but less can still be more. There is still plenty of room in the moviesphere for smaller, more intimate fare. Films that rely on story without spectacle. Films that explore the tiny moments of regular people.

“Driveways,” directed by Andrew Ahn from a screenplay by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and starring the late, great Brian Dennehy in one of his final roles, giving a typically outstanding performance (that might low-key be one of his very best). It’s a movie built on the unexpected connections that can develop between people due to chance factors of proximity and circumstance. It’s a story about the idea of family and how it can mean different things to different people.

And again – less is more. This isn’t a showy film, but rather a sincere one. That sincerity lends an air of verisimilitude to these relationships, making it easy to empathize. “Driveways” embraces its intimacy and unap0logetically wears its heart on its sleeve – much to its ultimate benefit.

Kathy (Hong Chau, TV’s “Watchmen”) has come to a small New York town to see to the final affairs of her deceased sister. Specifically, to clean out the house that her sister had rarely left in the years before her death. In tow is Cody (Lucas Jaye, TV’s “Merry Happy Whatever”), Kathy’s nine-year-old son. Cody is a sensitive, quiet kid who seems content to do whatever it takes to make things easier on his mom; smart, shy and a little lonely.

Next door is Del (Dennehy), a Korean War veteran who has been living alone since the death of his wife some years ago. He sits on his porch and watches the world go by. Sometimes, he goes down to the VFW hall and plays bingo with his buddies.

One day, Del’s ride to the VFW forgets to pick him up. Kathy offers to give him a lift and expresses some of her feelings with regards to the issues surrounding the cleanup – specifically, the lack of electricity. He goes to bingo, she goes on her errands. The next day, an extension cord and power strip mysteriously appear.

This leads to what proves to be a very unlikely bond between Del and Cody. The two, both lonely and unsure how to combat that loneliness, wind up making very good company, with Del revealing more and more about his life to a fascinated and curious Cody. It’s an unorthodox friendship, but no less real because of that.

Major changes are in the offing for all of them; they’re left to decide what accepting those changes might mean to themselves … and to each other.

So here’s the thing: not a lot actually HAPPENS in “Driveways.” It’s a brisk movie, both in terms of how the story unfolds and of literal runtime (just 83 minutes), with Ahn and company choosing to focus on relationships rather than plot. And that’s 100% the right call; the connections are what matter.

It’s all so … small. There are no sweeping emotional explosions, no major moments of crisis or catharsis. It is about the unexpected tiny happenings that lead to us connecting in significant ways. It is about three people finding each other. That’s it.

It’s more than enough.

That’s due in large part to the performances. Dennehy is exceptional as Del, inhabiting the role with an understated ease that few actors will ever match. There’s a fullness to the work that is truly wonderful to watch; he’s always great, but this one is close to a masterclass. He can do big, but it’s his gift for understatement that makes him one of the best. He shines brightest in his scenes with Jaye; the youngster proves to be an excellent sounding board for Dennehy’s subtle self-exploration. Perhaps most impressively, the friendship dynamic reads as very genuine. And Hong Chau is a legit talent in her own right. There’s a nice edge to her take on Kathy, a whiff of sardonicism that flavors her general geniality. The relationships are the film’s foundation – and these connections make a strong base indeed.

“Driveways” is the sort of quiet film that you might initially overlook, but that would be a mistake. Andrew Ahn and company have told a story of sweet, subtle affection and dignity, led by an incredible performance from a man who gave us so many incredible performances. The connections we make matter – now more than ever – and films like “Driveways” celebrate the value of those connections.

Less is more.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2020 12:33

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