This understated masterpiece about reaching out and touching your neighbour’s hand is so tender and confident in its modest space that not many are aware of it. But to miss this tender, deeply moving film is to miss an opportunity to better our lives and our perspective on the human condition. At a time when we need that healing touch the most, Driveways comes to us with a simplicity of theme and lucidity of expression that I find unmatched by any recent film. The story could just as well have been a melodramatic maelstrom about a lonely, sensitive and studious observant little boy Cody (Lucas Jaye) who arrives in a soporific town with his hassled but capable mother Kathy (Hong Chau) to take charge of her dead sister’s unkempt and overcrowded home.
The cluttered house is in contrast to the stark bare lives led by the mother-son pair, who seem more like friends, sharing deep silences rather than forced conversations. In fact, the amazing director Andre Ahn (have you seen his stunning debut film Spa Night?) builds an invisible bridge among three generations through his three main characters: the mother, the son and the retired quietly hurting neighbour.
It is within this arc that Ahn works his muted magic, weaving a pastiche of emotions buried too deep for years to be rendered into tears. The three principal actors are so brilliant I thought they were pretending to act. Veteran Brian Dennehy, who passed away soon after shooting for this film, is no surprise in his brilliance. But the little boy Lucas Jaye, so wise and comprehending that friends his age make him puke (literally), holds the film together much as he holds his mother’s frazzled life together with his quiet composure way beyond his age. I don’t know where the director found this boy. But I want to adopt him immediately. Hong Chau as the single mother trying to give her solemn son (whom she calls ‘Professor’) the life he deserves, is equally exceptional, though she makes no effort to be impressive. Nothing in this tightly-wound precisely-edited film is overdone. We, as the spectators have to reach far within ourselves to reach the emotions these three characters secrete. This is a meditative melancholic yet uplifting film on the human touch and how empathy can heal while we are not even looking for comfort.