'Driveways' Review: Hong Chau Leads A Sentimental And Lovely Coming-Of-Age Drama [Tribeca]

One of the few intense moments of Driveway is when pranksters' firecrackers disturb the sleep of a mother and son. It startles the nine-year-old shy protagonist Cody (Lucas Jaye). Yet the sparks themselves become a sight of wonder. An idyllic coming-of-age story, the movie encapsulates the workings of a child's head when they're wondering how to feel about a moment.Cody has joined his single mother (Hong Chau) in a quiet suburban neighborhood as she cleans out her recently deceased sister's home and its cesspool of knick-knacks. Next door, an elderly Korean War Veteran, Del (Brian Dennehy), sits at his porch, seemingly waiting for something. As Cody's mother digs through the heaps of her late sister's domicile, the boy befriends the veteran and they share a few small adventures around the local area.Driveways depicts the mundane increments of experience that define one boy's growth within a few days. Cinematographer Ki Jin Kim attunes the scope around the periphery of a young boy's surroundings, rendering Jaye small against the adult world. Ahn allows microscopic moments to flesh out the relationships, such as when Cody stamps out his mother's cigarette or his mother apologizes for casually swearing. When the boy asks if his aunt died in the house, we understand he's formulating an understanding of mortality and change.We observe how Cody processes his own masculinity. His relationship with Del is a refreshing portrait of tenderhearted manhood and boyhood. The boy witnesses an ideal of masculinity as he observes two boys roughhouse from afar, which unsettles his sensitive nature when the boys are offered to him as playmates. He much prefers the tender example of masculinity in a slow-moving old man like Del, who seems to have some remorse over lost time while also being content with the smallness of his existence.Cody is a sensitive soul, but he also has a sense of his own survival, such as when he flees the roughhousing boys. Touches of the Asian experience permeates Cody's existence, though he does not have the vocabulary to comprehend it. He observes some micro-aggressions, such as a cheeky neighbor (a memorable Christine Ebersole), whose hospitable intentions co-exists with her patronizing curiosity about his mother's background.Chau is as much as a star as Jaye as a single mother maintaining her fortitude while frazzled. She has a take-what-you-can-get code that is not uncommon in Vietnamese mothers, if you grew up under an Asian mother as I have. Chau always suggests hardiness even in her more relaxed moments. She has crude edges to her personality, while also being content to open up to any connection and ready to accept any community. We admire her resourcefulness with the circumstances, such as camping with her son at the porch since they cannot inhabit the messy house and afford a motel for long, as she grows content with a space she didn't intend to occupy in the first place.With a plot as passive as it is picturesque, Driveways is nowhere near the grit as other coming-of-age dramas like The Florida Project, Wildlife, or Summer 1993, and it doesn't need to be. Driveways feels comfortable throughout without ever being cushy. The script borders on maudlin with two contrived drawn-out monologues that play as flowery rambles rather than convincing ruminations. But most importantly, we grow at home in the neighborhood as Cody does and content with their humble adventures. The movie doesn't lend clear-cut reveals about loose threads of history, such as how the late sister lived. But leaving a few mysteries makes the moment more intimate, as not everything is resolved in life. Driveways embraces and delivers its sentimentality with heart./Film Rating: 7.5 of 10