Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: We’re highlighting some of the best movies of 2020 so far that we didn’t review.
Throughout his decades-long career, the late character actor Brian Dennehy captured various forms of masculinity: the sadistic and narrow-minded Sheriff Teasle opposite Sylvester Stallone’s traumatized Rambo in First Blood; the playful industrialist father to Chris Farley in Tommy Boy; the grim Montague patriarch of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. His imposing stature lent tangible weight to his Tony-winning portrayal of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, and his recognizably grizzled voice added edge to the business-minded Django The Rat in Ratatouille. Physically but also emotionally, the man was solid, which made him easy to trust.
In Driveways, one of his final films, he’s easy to love as well. The sophomore feature from writer-director Andrew Ahn casts Dennehy as Korean War veteran Del, a man who’s possibly outlived his usefulness. His wife passed away some years ago, although her dresses still hang in their closet and her magazines remain neatly stacked around the house. Her presence lingers. Del, meanwhile, spends most days either inside, watching the neighborhood transform around him, or at the local VFW hall, with fellow old-timers. During weekly card games, they might recite poetry or they might forget a loved one’s name. They, too, are changing—slipping into illness and forgetfulness.
Del’s loneliness is matched by the Asian-American mother-and-son duo who arrive to clean out the house next door. Shocked to learn that her sister was a hoarder, and overwhelmed by the task now in front of her, no-nonsense single mom Kathy (Hong Chau, of Watchmen and Downsizing) realizes they’ll be in this small New York town longer than she thought. While she deals with unpaid bills, dumpster rentals, and garage-sale organization, her shy 8-year-old son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), strikes up a friendship with Del, whose initial aloofness toward the kid is replaced with curiosity, then protectiveness and pride. The two don’t converse much at first, but there’s an easy, immediate bond—a shared sense that they would rather be around each other than alone.
Ahn shows us this gentle companionship through patient scenes that focus on the unlikely pair’s shared experiences. By letting those interactions linger, Ahn makes the film’s central argument: Camaraderie can be found anywhere, if you’re willing to offer compassion first. Rebuffing the goofy hijinks so often found in films with age-gap friendships, Driveways moves at a slower pace, as the two share a newspaper on the front porch, throw out guesses during a competitive game of Wheel The Fortune, and sit side by side at the public library, Cody reading a manga while Del looks up information about his estranged daughter. Ahn’s script offers matter-of-fact details that shade in the characters, and the universally excellent ensemble gives them life. Chau’s deadpan response of “Michigan” to a neighbor who asks her where she is “originally from” contrasts with her softness toward Cody, whom she calls “Professor.” Kathy doesn’t quite grasp what so appeals to her son about this old white man, but while celebrating Cody’s birthday at the VFW hall, she feels kinship among the veterans, and is strengthened by it.
But Driveways belongs to Dennehy, who gives its ideology of kindness a voice. Late into the film, Del beautifully tells the story of a whole life: how swiftly time passed, how he regrets certain choices made and opportunities not taken, and how he fondly remembers the people he loved and cherished. As COVID-19 has drastically altered how we live, so many movies have been discussed as the right choice for this current moment. But Driveways feels like a guiding light for what comes next, for how we endure after this. Its insistence that empathy is the bare minimum that we owe each other is both of this time and beyond it.