“Driveways” was filmed a few years ago near my neck of the woods in rural Upstate New York. Hong Chau (who deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2017’s “Downsizing”) stars as single-mom Kathy. She’s studying to be a nurse (doing medical transcriptions to make money) while raising 8-year-old Cody (Lucas Jaye from “Fuller House”).
When older sister April dies, Kathy inherits her house. She and Cody travel from their home in Michigan to N.Y. to get the property ready to sell. But what they discover when they arrive complicates things.
April and Kathy were estranged. She wasn’t aware that her sister was a hoarder. The house is packed with junk. Getting it cleaned-out and ready to be put on the market is going to take a lot longer than originally thought.
The quiet, sensitive Cody soon befriends Del, April’s next-door neighbor. He’s played by the late Brian Dennehy, in one of his final performances. Del’s a Korean War vet and widower. We’ve seen this old man/young boy bonding theme in past movies. But the delicate and personable way it’s handled in “Driveways” allows the storyline to feel reborn.
“Driveways” first screened at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. Last November it received two Independent Spirit Awards nominations (even without a distributor or official theatrical release). One went to Chau for Lead Actress. Kathy’s subtle tenacity combined with undeniable devotion to Cody make her the antithesis of the single-mother character we get in most movies. Chau and Jaye provide some of the strongest mother-son relationship scenes in recent memory.
Writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thurteen received the other Spirit Awards nom — in the Best First Screenplay category. It was also well deserved. “Driveways” is filled with perceptive, authentic moments and sublime dialogue — while packing a deep emotional punch. Dennehy (who should’ve received a Supporting Actor nomination) delivers a monologue late in the film that perfectly summarizes the concepts of change, loss and regret that are at the heart of the film. It’s devastatingly moving, especially in light of his recent death. For fans of the Tony and Golden Globe winning actor, “Driveways” is a must-watch.
And Jaye’s performance is equally impressive. He’s able to present Cory as smart and observant beyond his years. And we can easily understand why he’d rather spend time with his Mom and Del than kids his own age.
A few scenes do feel out of place (including one involving Cory’s dad). But as a whole, “Driveways” provides a bittersweet, multi-generational lesson on why life is the most precious possession we have.
LCJ GRADE: A-
Running Time: 83 min.