The characters in the new film “Kodachrome,” a good-natured if by-the-numbers road trip and relationship drama with Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris, are enchanted by the analog. Music is to be listened to on vinyl. Maps are to be read, and not by Siri, to get to a destination. Photographs are best on film. And face time is better than FaceTime when it comes to making amends for decades of bad behavior.
It’s a little funny, then, that Netflix is ultimately the reason that most audiences will be able to see “Kodachrome.” The company acquired the indie at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and is releasing it to streaming customers and in a limited number of theaters. While it’ll certainly mean the biggest possible audience for “Kodachrome,” there’s also some irony in a movie about the death of a type of film being released on a service that more than a few are worried will be the death of another kind of film.
Harris, who plays a famous photojournalist rushing against the clock to get some forgotten rolls developed, even has a heartfelt monologue about how “nothing beats the real thing” and how digital photographs are basically just “electronic dust.” His character doesn’t get into the topic of digital movies and streaming services, but, it’s so on the nose, it can’t help but trigger the thought.
Not that the look of the movie is even all that classical or “analog” anyway. The images are smooth and pretty, but sanitized and, well, digital. But the intentions are sweet.
It’s based on a 2010 New York Times article by A.G. Sulzberger about the closing of the last processor of Kodachrome, Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, that inspired amateur and professional photographers to make a journey to the shop to develop their last rolls. The film, directed by Mark Raso (“Copenhagen”) and written by Jonathan Tropper (“This is Where I Leave You”), adds some stakes and drama to this, and even riffs on the fact that Kodachrome was also the title of a Paul Simon song by making the lead, Matt (Sudeikis), a music producer.
Matt is having a lousy day when we meet him, losing a big client and getting an ultimatum from his boss that he’s got to evolve and sign someone. It only gets worse when a woman he’s never met before, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), shows up to tell him that his father, Ben (Harris), is dying and would like to see him.
Matt and Ben haven’t spoken for a decade, and their relationship was already strained and sour before then with the death of Matt’s mother and Ben’s general absence. But now, with death knocking, Ben would like Matt to accompany him (and Zoe, who is his caretaker, but we’ll get to that later), on a road trip from New York to Kansas to get Ben’s film developed before the shop closes and he dies.
Despite a lot of protesting, they make a deal with Matt and he takes off in a red convertible with Ben and Zoe. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, you can probably guess where this is going: Ups and downs and fights and reconciliation and a burgeoning romance all bubble up on their drive to the Midwest. This is a road that has been traveled before, many, many times.
And while this makes much of the journey predictable, not to mention the fact that the presence of Zoe, who doesn’t do all that much caretaking, is an offensively contrived and obvious plot device, the talented actors elevate the thin premise and make it worth watching — especially the end.
Sudeikis, in particular, shines in this unusually dramatic role, and the Second City and “Saturday Night Live” alum exhibits a depth he touched on in films like “Sleeping with Other People” and “Colossal” but that he really gets to live in here.
“Kodachrome” was never going rock the industry or disrupt where things are going, but maybe the fact that Netflix is making it available to more eyes than ever would have seen it five years ago is its own kind of silver lining for small character dramas that always seem to be on verge of going the way of Kodachrome.
Netflix presents a film directed by Mark Raso and written by Jonathan Tropper. No MPAA rating. Running time: 105 minutes. Now showing at Landmark Century Centre and on Netflix.