For those who aren’t photography enthusiasts or who weren’t around when taking photos was more refined than simply whipping out our phones, Kodachrome was first introduced in 1935 and became one of the earliest color films to be commercially successful. It quickly became the preferred choice for both still photography and cinematography before succumbing to digital in 2010.
So why am I talking about photography? It happens to be a key plot device in the father/son road trip drama “Kodachrome”. In this Netflix Original film Ed Harris plays Benjamin Ryder an accomplished photographer who is dying of cancer. His last wish is to carry some of his recently discovered early film to Parsons, Kansas where the last Kodachrome development lab in the world is preparing to shut its doors. His health doesn’t permit him to fly so he sends his nurse/assistant Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) to recruit his estranged son Matt (Jason Sudeikis) to drive him.
That quickly proves to be easier said than done. Matt, a struggling record company executive and recent divorcee, has nothing but disdain for his father who ran out on him and his now deceased mother. But he is eventually persuaded by Ben’s manager (Dennis Haysbert) to make the uncomfortable and at times toxic 2,000 mile trip with his dad and Zooey.
This is writer Jonathan Tropper’s second feature film script (his first being 2014’s “This is Where I Leave You”). He works with director Mark Raso to build a deeply character-centered story around a very familiar premise. The pair lean heavily on their actors, the always reliable Harris and Olsen and the surprisingly strong Sudeikis. The performances are genuine and the writing so sincere that it’s easy to look past the fact that we know where things are heading.
Predictably the film deals with the themes of death and reconciliation, but it doesn’t plow a straight and easy row. Ben doesn’t allow much room for sympathy and the story doesn’t provide him with an easy way out of how we (the audience) perceive him. Look no further than his toxic and often bruising back-and-forths with Matt. This is perhaps best realized when they make an unannounced stop to see Ben’s (also estranged) brother and sister-in-law (played really well by Bruce Greenwood and Wendy Crewson). Let’s just say it unearths yet another unflattering side of Ben.
I think some have mislabeled “Kodachrome” by considering it a comedy when I found it to be far from that. It’s equal parts family drama and character study with maybe a pinch of black comedy. From the very start the familiar story structure appears routine and the movie never quite shakes that feeling. But with three well developed central characters and top-notch performances behind them, “Kodachrome” is able to do the single most essential thing in a movie like this – make us care.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS