What a lovely movie! Quiet but never mundane, thoughtful, with great acting.
"Lovely" is not an adjective I use very often to describe a movie, but Driveways earns it. The subject matter isn't unique, and director Andrew Ahn doesn't show off. He just makes room for his story and his actors to shine, and they do. Driveways tells of the budding relationship between a nine-year-old boy and an octogenarian widower. I feared cheap sentiment and audience manipulation, but Ahn and writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen avoid this, letting the emotional impact grow gradually over the course of the film. Some movies like this work the audience over. Thankfully, Driveways moves us without taking away our dignity.
The cast has people I know and a lot of new-to-me actors, all of whom make their mark. I knew Hong Chau, who plays the boy's mother, from Treme and Watchmen. She's versatile ... her characters in those television shows were unlike each other, and in Driveways, she's at it again. She's frazzled, and her relationship with her son is more friend than mom, but their connection feels natural. Lucas Jaye plays the boy, and I'd never heard of him, although he already has a long resume of TV work (the only thing I recognized was Angie Tribeca, and I don't remember him from that). He, too, gives us natural and believable acting. Often it's the child actors that doom films like this, but Jaye is a highlight. (And, as always, I like to give props to the director, because I know how hard it is to get a good performance from a kid.) I recognized a couple of other names, again people I know from television. Christine Ebersole almost overplays her role as a well-meaning but rather obnoxious neighbor ... emphasis on almost. And Jerry Adler, Hesh from The Sopranos, makes the most of his scenes.
The standout is Brian Dennehy as the widower. He has such presence ... my wife and I agreed he makes everything he is in better. Perhaps the best proof of this is that when I looked at his credits, I haven't actually seen him in that many things ... he sticks in my mind anyway. Bos and Thureen give him plenty to work with. This widower is never stereotypical ... he never tells the kid to get off his lawn, but neither is he a meaningless benign character.
Watching Driveways, it's impossible to forget that Dennehy died just a couple of months ago. But Ahn and Dennehy never milk this fact ... this isn't Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. I kept waiting for that big scene that had OSCAR written on it, but when it finally came, I didn't notice at first, precisely because it wasn't showy. Dennehy starts talking to the boy, draws us into his monologue, and without our really noticing, he talks for six minutes, after which the credits roll. It's the best scene in the movie. It's like Bos and Thureen give Dennehy a present, Ahn lets Dennehy enjoy the moment, and Dennehy gives the present back to us in the audience.