365体育投注When Del (Brian Dennehy) realizes that a friend has failed to provide a promised ride, Kathy (Hong Chau) grudgingly agrees to drive him — in part because her son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), insists that it’s the right thing to do. Courtesy photo


‘Driveways’: Park yourself in front of this one!


Four stars

Starring: Brian Dennehy, Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye, Jerry Adler, Christine Ebersole, Robyn Payne, Jeter Rivera and Sophia DiStefano

Rating:365体育投注 Not rated, but with some blunt profanity

Strong, subtle acting highlights this sensitive little drama

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

There are movie stars and there are actors.

And, rarely, there are actors365体育投注: the wielders of true magic. The ones who slide into a role with such smoothness — such casual subtlety — that you’re not even aware of the craft on display. You simply spend time with that character.

365体育投注I first clocked Brian Dennehy in 1978’s “Foul Play,” when his small supporting role — jostling for attention among scene-stealers Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Dudley Moore — nonetheless registered. Considerably, in fact; he was the one authentic human being among exaggerated burlesques. It was a clever move by writer/director Colin Higgins, because it allowed Dennehy to stand out.

He probably caught the attention of most moviegoers as the overzealous, hard-ass sheriff in 1982’s “First Blood,” which kick-started Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo franchise. Dennehy’s CV since then has been far too impressive to cite here: always engaging, always enjoyable. Even when he was just larking about — as in the two “F/X” films he made with Bryan Brown — the work was solid. He became that guy.

His film work was eclipsed by a stage career that netted two Tony Awards, for “Death of a Salesman” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

Dennehy died on April 20 — 81 years old, and still too young — but he left us with one final sterling performance, in director Andrew Ahn’s sensitive indie drama, “Driveways.”

The achingly poignant Hannah Bos/Paul Thureen script is buoyed further by co-stars Hong Chau and Lucas Jaye. Although additional characters briefly drift in and out, this is essentially a three-hander: a delicate, intimate study of loneliness and regret, and the healing power of simply reaching out.

Ahn wastes no time in a backstory. Single parent Kathy (Chau) and her young son Cody (Jaye), after a long drive, pull into the driveway of her long-estranged and recently deceased older sister. Night has fallen, and Kathy’s body language is reluctant, resigned but grimly resolute; Cody has the morose face of an adult who hasn’t experienced enough joy.

365体育投注The long-retired Del (Dennehy), living along next door, notes their arrival.

365体育投注Arrangements, obviously made in haste, are incomplete; Kathy and Cody aren’t able to get inside. They backtrack to a cheap motel, and return — better prepared — in the morning. Once inside, they’re greeted by a hoarder’s nightmare; the house is wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with junk and debris that completely conceals what once must’ve been a cheerful, cozy home.

365体育投注Kathy is horrified and overwhelmed; the shock and dismay on Chau’s face are palpable.

She’s by nature defensive and prickly, and perhaps too protective of Cody: reactions that become easy to understand, as Ahn and his writers eventually insert character details. Pregnant too young, wisely distanced from Cody’s father, not attached to geography or any other family members, likely deprived of the “fun phase” enjoyed by most twenty- and thirtysomethings, but — full credit to her — working hard to make a life for the two of them, while slowly pursuing a career.

I love the impulsiveness of Kathy’s actions one evening, after a hard day of attempting to sort the mess before the house can be put on the market, when she attempts to give herself an evening out — and the result thereof. Such subtle writing by Bos and Thureen.

365体育投注It should be noted that Chau conveys much of her character’s moods and emotions without dialogue, via body language and carefully nuanced expressions; Kathy often is alone in this house, and not one to talk to herself. But she’s by no means unnaturally silent: Kathy and Cody share a strong bond — she calls him “Professor” — and their mother/son conversations sound absolutely authentic.

Things with Del get off to a ragged start, due to a mild misunderstanding; Cody, his boyish curiosity — and an obviously good heart — overcoming natural shyness, comes to the rescue. Del makes the next crucial move: a thoughtful surprise that greets Kathy and Cody when they return to their horrific chore the following morning.

As expected, the story soon focuses on the developing bond between this lonely, fatherless little boy and this much older man, who quietly nurtures his own pain. Dennehy, as well, conveys much of Del’s thoughts and emotions wordlessly; he puts so much into a sigh, a sidelong glance, a bemused half-smile.

365体育投注Sidebar characters include Linda (Christine Ebersole), a nosy neighbor whose chatty intrusiveness can’t conceal the woman’s absolute lack of empathy; she’s accompanied by two obnoxious grandsons, obvious little thugs, who regard Cody with the predatory gaze of jackals about to leap on an antelope.

Jeter Rivera and Sophia DiStefano are far more approachable as Miguel and Anna, two lively kids more Cody’s age and temperament, who bond over a shared interest in manga comic books. Here, too, Bos and Thureen nail the way exuberant children talk to each other; the result is quite endearing.

Del spends some of his time at the local VFW lodge, playing bingo with a gaggle of friends that includes Rodger (Jerry Adler, nicely understated). This, too, is a key relationship; Rodger is becoming forgetful, and sliding into dementia, much to Del’s dismay. As with so much else in this masterfully constructed story, this situation isn’t necessarily destined for any sort of resolution; it just is365体育投注 — as would be the case, in real life.

Robyn Payne also stands out as Charlene, a sympathetic real estate agent whose heart breaks on Kathy’s behalf — upon witnessing the mess involved — over the enormity of the task facing her. To her credit, Charlene doesn’t flee. (One hates to think that she’s seen this before.)

365体育投注Charlotte Royer’s production design feels as authentic as everything else; the little slice of this neighborhood is classic, semi-rural suburbia. (Filming took place in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where Bos and Thureen met while students at Vassar.)

Jay Wadley’s gentle score, dominated by plaintive piano and strings, perfectly augments the heavily emotional atmosphere.

365体育投注This drama is laden with poignant and deeply intimate little moments: a small film with an enormous heart. I particularly love the scenes with Dennehy and Jaye: Del and Cody quietly eating sandwiches together, reading at a table in the library, mowing the lawn. The connection between them is palpable.

Following award-nominated screenings at several film festivals last year and earlier this year, “Driveways” bypassed theatrical release and has come directly to Amazon Prime and other streaming services. I’d argue this is a good move; Ahn’s sensitive drama is best experienced in the intimacy of one’s home.

Because, ultimately, this story is all about home.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.


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