Kodachrome focuses on blurred relationship

A- Road movie
Written by Jonathan Tropper, from an article by A.G. Sulzberger
Directed by Mark Raso

No, this picture isn’t about analog vs. digital photography. It’s a road movie, and a drama about a father and son reconnecting after a long and strained absence.

Road movies feel loose, but they follow a strict story structure. Within that structure, we can watch characters deepen, grow, and bond. When it works, it’s magical. Kodachrome works.

When we first meet Matt (Jason Sudeikis in a rare, non-comedic role), he’s desperately trying to save his career in the music business. Artists don’t want to work with him anymore.

At that difficult time, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) turns up to tell him that his father is dying. Matt couldn’t care less. He hates his father and hasn’t talked to him in years. We soon learn Matt has very good reasons for that hate. The father, Ben (Ed Harris), is a horrible, cruel, and extremely difficult human being. Zoe, I should mention, is Ben’s nurse.

But Ben is also a great photographer, and one devoted to that most beloved of still photography film stocks, Kodachrome. Ben has four rolls he needs to develop. To do so, he must get those rolls from New York to Kansas very quickly.

This is all set in 2010, the year when Kodak stopped making the necessary chemicals for developing Kodachrome. The last lab in the world that still handles the stock – in Parsons, Kansas – will stop handling Kodachrome in a few days. The screenplay is based on a non-fiction New York Times article about that event. The characters of Zoe, Matt, and Ben are fictitious.

For reasons I need not discuss, they must drive the rolls of film to Kansas – neither flying nor shipping will do. So Matt, Zoe, and a reluctant Ben must go by car on the long road trip.

The three main characters initially seem like movie clichés. But as the story deepens, we learn more about them. They do and say things that are surprising and unexpected, and yet they never seem out of character.

Sudeikis proves the cliché that you can’t be a good comedian without being an excellent actor. His Matt is stressed, insecure, and angry at the world (but mostly at his father). And while he slowly develops a love for the old man, the anger never completely disappears.

Olsen’s role could have been a one-note romantic interest, but the filmmakers are smarter than that. She’s a professional with a love/hate relationship with her employer, and mixed feelings for the employer’s handsome but unfriendly son. She has a history she’s not proud of. Olsen plays slightly drunk to perfection.

But Harris commands the film as Ben, who we first see playing drums with enthusiasm. This is a man who never really cared for anyone but himself. Now he’s angry, and not just because he’s dying. The world is changing, and he can’t change with it.

That, I think, is why the film is called Kodachrome. Ben can’t stand that his beloved film stock is dying with him.

Kodachrome opens Friday, in theaters but also simultaneously  on Netflix.