Though he doesn’t pause to respond, there’s a wonderful moment in “Driveways,” the second feature from Andrew Ahn, when you can see Del (Brian Dennehy) take a moment to think about what to say to the nine-year-old Cody (Lucas Jaye) when asked why they’re headed to the VFW Hall, a highlight of his social calendar where he regularly meets his buddies. He could explain that they all served in the military, but that would only lead to more questions from the curious boy, so he just leaves it at “It’s where I play bingo,” likely saving some aggravation for Cody’s mother Cathy (Hong Chau), who’s driving, as well and it becomes a hallmark of Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s beautifully calibrated script that what’s often left unsaid is as much of an act of compassion as what is, particularly when all three are operating under a certain fog one summer.
Ahn, who previously brought such sensitivity and emotional precision to the story of the son of Korean immigrants figuring out his sexual orientation as much as his place in America in his arresting debut “Spa Night,” works similar magic with “Driveways,” in which the prepubescent Cody and the octogenarian Del form a friendship when they realize they have far more in common with each other than with the rest of the community you’d expect to be their peers. At first, Cody doesn’t appear to have much interest in making such connections in the first place, already preoccupied with a tablet loaded up with games when Cathy is driving around the quiet suburbs looking for her late sister April’s home, asking Cody to look up from his game when she starts looking for an address. Cathy’s the lone living relative who can clean up for April, whom she had long been estranged, and with the power shut off, Cody can’t easily recharge his tablet, leading him to chat up the old man sitting on the porch next door. Del has mutual interest in passing the time talking with someone since he lives alone, with his visits to the VFW Hall few and far between and his daughter living aways away in Seattle.
While’s Cody’s shyness that prevents him from engaging with others, Cathy and Del have put a distance between themselves and the rest of the world out of self-protection for reasons the film gradually reveals from their past and it speaks to the skill of all involved that such a simple set-up can yield such a rich, multigenerational portrait of closing oneself off from new experiences based on what they fear based on old ones. Bos and Thureen are careful to not to spell things out and with delicate, affecting performances from Chau, Dennehy and Jaye, it’s never necessary when watching Cody’s face scrunch up at the prospect of wrestling with the neighborhood kids or Chau’s raised eyebrow express well more than words ever could. There’s a spry humor that runs through “Driveways,” underlined by the lively compositions that Ahn and cinematographer Ki Jin Kim carve out of static frames and what composer Jay Wadley can kick up with a soul-stirring piano score, balancing out the immense burden that Cody, Del and Cathy all feel as if they have to bear. Although “Driveways” carries considerable weight, it never feels heavy and as it follows its characters take small steps out of their comfort zone, it becomes extraordinarily moving.