This one is a bit of a cheat. I typically only review movies that I see in the theater, but this one simply won’t come anywhere near me. It’s a Netflix original that’s getting a very limited theatrical release in order to qualify for awards and such. So, even though it’s technically a theatrical release, I’ll never get the opportunity to see it that way, so I’m going the digital route, much like I did with Voice from the Stone. And there was simply no way I was going to ignore an Elizabeth Olsen movie.
Olsen stars with Jason Sudeikis (another favorite of mine) and the great Ed Harris in this simple but poignant tale about an estranged father and son attempting to reconnect in the wake of the father’s impending death. Taking place approximately six years ago, struggling record label executive Matt Ryder (Sudeikis) is visited by a woman by the name of Zooey Barnes (Olsen). Zooey reveals that she is the nurse for Matt’s father Ben, who is ill and has very little time to live. As a famous and successful photographer, Ben has found four rolls of undeveloped Kodachrome film and requests that Matt join Ben and Zooey as they drive from New York to Nebraska in an effort to reach the last remaining location that develops the antiquated technology so that Ben can put on one final photography show before his death.
The primary trio of Harris, Sudeikis, and Olsen are overwhelmingly the biggest strength that Kodachrome has going for it. I don’t mean to suggest that no other aspect of the film is worthy of praise, but each of them turn in powerful, touching, and uniquely individual performances that not only elevate the film but also actively add layers to the narrative that are otherwise absent from the script.
As Ben, Harris gives one of his more memorable performances of late, if not of his entire career. Ben is not a nice man. He’s surly, he’s selfish, he’s vindictive, and he’s everything else that comes along with such qualities. But he’s also human. He is adeptly aware of his mortality and develops regrets that a man of his ilk would never expect to develop. There are moments in the movie when Ben works to maintain his gruff exterior throughout his interactions with Matt, Zooey, and everyone else. When the others turn away from Ben and he is no longer under anyone’s gaze, he lets his guard down. Only the audience sees him in these moments and Harris betrays an underlying fear and truthfulness in Ben that a lifetime of toxic masculinity has left him unable to express. Harris achieves this through nothing but the slightest facial expressions and the most subtle body language and he also somehow manages to do it both swiftly and gradually, like a high-speed camera playing in slow motion. The effect is somehow simultaneously undeniable and nearly imperceptible. This is just one single example of Harris’s incredible performance in the film, but I found it especially remarkable and felt the need to call attention to it for those of you who will watch it (hopefully all of you).
Sudeikis once again shows that he’s more than a comic as he must balance Matt’s long-standing and entirely justified anger towards his dying father with a desire to love and forgive him before it’s too late. Matt’s biggest moment – and perhaps Sudeikis’s, as well – comes a little after the one hour mark. It’s the pivotal moment in the film and Sudeikis is required to traverse through a challenging roller coaster of emotions in a very short period of time. It couldn’t have been easy, but he completely sells it and it’s right then that Sudeikis shows that he can hang with the likes of Harris and Olsen. I don’t know if Sudeikis has matured as an actor or if he’s just now being given the opportunities to show audiences how well-rounded he’s always been, but with roles such as this one and his part in Colossal, he is proving that he has more to offer than most previously believed.
In terms of screen time, Olsen toes the line between lead and support, but in terms of importance as both a character and a cast member, she’s a lead, all the way. Zooey is the stimulus that drives both the story and the major character development forward. Without her, nothing in the film happens. But she has her own arc as well. Zooey understands the reluctance that Ben and Matt have in trusting each other because she has her own trust issues, as well. But the object of her distrust is not who you might expect. She’s a classic example of someone who resists taking their own advice and as she senses forward movement from Ben and Matt, she faces the frightening prospect of having to follow suit.
Most critics are liking Kodachrome, but I saw one or two who accuse the film and director Mark Raso of forced sentimentality. I challenge anyone who levies that accusation to take the premise of this film and construct a narrative around it that wouldn’t result in some sort of emotional resolution. To not have such a denouement is what would be forced. The only other option would be to simply not tell this story. I’m glad Raso decided against that.
Kodachrome is a road trip movie unlike other road trip movies. Rather than featuring the traditional group of friends who hit the road to discover more about life, here we have three people who have spent their lives failing to connect with others and desperately want to buck that habit. Time is of the essence for them. They don’t know how to bond but they know it’s important enough to try. The ultimate destination is apparent nearly from the very beginning of the story. This narrative is unquestionably about the journey – both literally and metaphorically.
We’ve all been hurt by people that we love. And we all know what it’s like to retreat into other loves to protect ourselves, whether it be photography, music, or helping others. But those things can never replace the emptiness left by a lack of human connection. Kodachrome is about the importance of relationships and learning to trust before the opportunity to do so is lost. Buoyed by three incredible performances, Netflix has a winner and you can watch it right now.
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