Indie Focus: The delicate power of ‘Driveways’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Do the days seem long but the weeks seem short? Or is it the other way around? Or some combination thereof? Have I already asked this question? Whichever it is, here’s to another week down.

Amy Kaufman wrote about the recent Netflix documentary “A Secret Love,” directed by Chris Bolan, which details the 70-year relationship between Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue. The two women had been a couple for decades before they publicly came out and got married in their 80s.

Jen Yamato wrote about the indigenous zombie horror movie “Blood Quantum,” streaming now on Shudder, and filmmaker Jeff Barnaby told her how the movie has become unexpectedly timely. “The weird thing about being native and making a comment on viruses in particular is the history of the pandemics and the colonization of America,” he said. “It’s one of the benefits of being a native film director: You have so much history to riff on.”

The American Cinematheque is going to host an online screening and virtual Q&A for “The Half of It.” (Access to the Cinematheque’s dedicated screening link is already closed, but the film is streaming on Netflix.) At 7 p.m. Pacific on Saturday, there will be an online discussion with writer-director Alice Wu and stars Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer and Alexxis Lemire moderated by “The Farewell” filmmaker Lulu Wang.


I reviewed two movies this week. “Arkansas,” an offbeat crime story directed by Clark Duke, who stars alongside Liam Hemsworth, was something of an unexpected treat, with its pulpy Elmore Leonard-esque story of small-time, small-town criminals. The musical remake of the 1983 teen classic “Valley Girl” is rather a disappointment, with little of the charm and spark that made the original such a gem.

This week The Times launched a new podcast, “Can’t Stop Watching: Your TV Faves on Their TV Faves.” Hosted by Yvonne Villarreal, it features conversations with actors and showrunners from some of the most exciting shows on TV. Episodes so far have featured David Harbour from “Stranger Things,” Mj Rodriguez from “Pose” and Milo Ventimiglia from “This Is Us.”

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Directed by Andrew Ahn from a screenplay by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, “Driveways” is a quiet, delicate drama that was nominated for two Spirit Awards, including female lead for Hong Chau. In the film, Kathy (Chau) is cleaning out the home of her recently deceased sister with her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye) in tow, and Cody strikes up a friendship with the elderly widower (Brian Dennehy) who lives next door. This was one of Dennehy’s final performances on film before his death in April at age 81, and the film is a fitting tribute to his gifts as an actor. “Driveways” is being released by FilmRise and is available on VOD and Laemmle Virtual Cinema.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “There isn’t a hint of overt speechifying in the movie, but Del does get a short, sweet monologue in which he reflects on his life: about his military days, his decades-long marriage, his blessings and failures as a husband and father … ‘Driveways,’ a movie that’s poignant now for reasons we doubtless wish it weren’t, shows us how unlikely people can come together under imperfect circumstances and fit together perfectly. It also shows us how fleeting that perfection can be.”

For Vox, Alissa Wilkinson wrote, “Obliquely and so softly that you’ll miss them if you’re not paying attention, ‘Driveways’ explores the guards we all put up between ourselves and others to protect ourselves from the things we fear. Loneliness. Mortality. New experiences. Getting too close to someone. Moving on with our lives. The film has the feel of a coming-of-age story stretched over one dreamy summer — you can hear the crickets and feel the sunshine — but it’s not entirely clear who’s coming of what age. Instead, without forcing its characters into huge thunderclaps of realization, ‘Driveways’ lets them bask in the cool rain of neighborly companionship and small acts of kindness.”

At the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, “With little to mark its quiet accumulation of life-changing events, this small-town character study is perpetually in danger of drifting past without pulling you in. Which would be a shame, as its performances are among the most affecting I’ve seen in quite a while.”

Hong Chau in the movie "Driveways."

‘How to Build a Girl’

Adapted for the screen by Caitlin Moran from her own novel, “How to Build a Girl” is a lively coming-of-age dramedy directed by Coky Giedroyc. The film tells the story of Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein), a 16-year-old in Wolverhampton, England, who refashions herself into a celebrated music critic. The cast also includes Paddy Considine, Alfie Allen, Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson. Released by IFC Films, the movie is available on VOD and is playing at the Mission Tiki 4 drive-in.

For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “This sincerely felt and utterly effervescent coming-of-age tale expresses a universal truth about being alive: that hopefully you’ll have the chance, and the awareness, to make and remake yourself again and again, dusting off the old bricks and forming them into something familiar but new. With a cheeky nod to the camera, and acknowledgment of the film’s unique perspective, Johanna praises the effort of doing all of that adventuring, mistake-making, growing and learning, for someone truly special: for a girl, for you.”

For the AP, Lindsey Bahr called the film “a wickedly funny, sweet and vibrantly told coming-of-age story that feels like a teen classic in the making. Feldstein has made a big impression in her relatively young career as the sweet best friend Julie in ‘Lady Bird’ and the overachieving Molly in ‘Booksmart.’ But her turn here as a teenage dreamer turned egomaniac rock critic may just be her best role yet, and that is very much in spite of the fact that her accent takes some getting used to and the actress herself is a full decade older than her character.”

For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote, “To every girl who watched ‘Almost Famous’ and ‘High Fidelity’ and bears the scars of trying to shoehorn her inner self into the male protagonist’s cramped psyche, ‘How to Build a Girl’ arrives like a soothing, if imperfect, balm.”

Beanie Feldstein in the movie "How to Build a Girl."
(IFC Films)

‘Spaceship Earth’

Directed by Matt Wolf, “Spaceship Earth” is a documentary about the ill-fated Biosphere 2 project, in which eight people lived for two years starting in 1991 in a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem. The project became an ecological experiment, a media darling and also a comedy of errors. Released by Neon, the movie is available on VOD and at Laemmle Virtual Cinema.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “‘Spaceship Earth’ provides its own corrective to the wholesale dismissal of Biosphere 2 and to the kind of rigid binary thinking that suggests human progress can be measured only in unqualified triumphs and outright disasters … What they came to understand deeply in their two years of isolation is a lesson that is worth revisiting always, but especially in an age of pandemic and climate change. There is no ecosystem too large to be imperiled, no action too small to have a consequence.”

For the AP, Jake Coyle wrote, “The legacy of the biosphere is, fittingly, mostly as a strange time capsule. It quickly made headlines and then fizzled in scandal and disinterest, a grand experiment that seemed of the future until it receded into the past. Wolf’s film, straightforward but compassionate, doesn’t necessarily challenge that understanding of Biosphere 2. But it affectionately documents the heady people and ambitious ideas that fueled its creation, relating an almost too-perfect metaphor for our feeble — and perhaps doomed — efforts to escape our own self-destructive nature.”

Bernd Zabel, Linda Leigh, Taber MacMullen, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo, Sally Silverstone, Roy Walford and Jane Poynter in a still from the movie "Spaceship Earth."
Bernd Zabel, from left, Linda Leigh, Taber MacMullen, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo, Sally Silverstone, Roy Walford and Jane Poynter in a still from the movie “Spaceship Earth.”
(Philippe Plailly / Science Photo Library / NEON)