Thursday, May 07, 2020

The Light Between Houses

Now that I live in New York the suburban and small town experience of "the driveway" feels somewhat lost to me -- we've got our alleys and we've got some parking spaces, but those don't really have the same sense of place, of experience, that a driveway does. How many goodbyes can you recollect being said in the driveways of your life? How much time as a kid (assuming you didn't grow up in a big city) did you spend playing, much to your parent's probable chagrin, in that rectangular patch of asphalt astride your home? I've no doubt got scars on my knees still from those days, spilling off of tricycles and sipping from the hose.

There were more frightening times -- my number one fore-fronted driveway memory involves a stranger's house; a friend of a friend they lived down the street from our church, and one teenage night messing around I pretended to dunk a basketball. Just goofing around, but in my typically clumsy manner (I interacted with people so scarcely I didn't know how to behave like a proper one) I grabbed onto and bent their brand new basketball hoop to ruin. My friend told me to run and run I did, into the night -- I spent weeks dodging those strangers, until finally I got punched in the face half a block from my church's door.

A somewhat random story to share but Spa Night director Andrew Ahn's new film, a straight-up stellar piece of work called Driveways, has been driving me to such of-the-past introspection ever since I saw it at Tribeca way back in 2019. The film's finally out streaming as of today, and I maybe can't toss enough heaven-high positive adjectives in its direction to get across to you how very much I adore this movie. It's magic, twilight, it's the buzz of fireflies in a vacant neighborhood lot as the sun goes down. It brings back floods of memories, weird little nooks of ones I haven't remembered in ages -- it does everything a movie should do, and you should see it ASAP.

Driveways stars Hong Chao as Kathy and Lucas Jaye (in one of the most moving child performances I've seen in some time) as her about-to-turn-nine son Cody -- her estranged sister has just died and so Kathy has driven the two of them, her and her son, to her sister's house to clean up (it turns out her sister was a straight-up hoarder) and sell the place. When Cody isn't helping his mom he mostly mills about outside, and from across the driveway he makes friends with the neighbor, an old man named Del that's played by the just-passed legend Brian Dennehy. 

Dennehy gives one of his finest performances, in a life smashed full of them, here -- the quiet camaraderie that he and Cody develop becomes, before you even realize it, a lifeline for the both of them. Although it's never precisely defined Cody reads clear to me as a little gayling in the making -- I could be projecting since Ahn is a queer filmmaker himself but too much of Cody's behavior, the loneliness and alienation he feels towards his peers; the anxiety their aggression brings out of him and the ways that manifests in more aggression from them in turn, just reads so specific to the experience of what it felt like to be That Kid for me. 

It all rings deeply true, anyway. Both times I've seen the film now it's shaken me hard with the depth of its knowledge and emotional acuity, with all of its disparate aspects -- everything involving Kathy's uncovering of her sister's life, one lived without her, is swathed in a sadness and a loss that Ahn never overdoes -- coming together into a house-next-door symphony of small, earth-shaking feeling. Its sense of place, both precise and impressionistic, lives in the sweet spot of youth, of memory, of things we haven't half-thought about in ages; things sharp as tacks and soft, warm, as a now gone grandparent holding your hand. 

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