Two years ago, an artificial intelligence robot called Benjamin wrote a screenplay after absorbing hundreds of others taken from science fiction films and television. Rudimentary, the finished product nonetheless bore basic tenets and tropes of the genre that were instantly recognisable on screen.
If you had a slightly more advanced system and fed it copious indie screenplays, you’d probably come up with something just a few notches shy of Kodachrome.
Record producer Matt (Jason Sudeikis), at a low point in his career, encounters Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) who informs him that his famous photographer father Ben (Ed Harris) is dying. Having not spoken in ten years, Matt agrees to accompany dad and his personal assistant/nurse on a 2,000-mile road trip to Kansas. Why – because there’s only one venue in the world that still develops Kodachrome and Ben, never having forgotten a single photo, has four age-old rolls he wants developed.
Road trip – tick. Parent-child bonding – tick. Setting for quirky romance – tick. Soliloquies about the role of artist and fading artistry, in this case photography – tick.
Kodachrome hits more beats typical of indie fare than perhaps any of it’s contemporaries can muster. Matt, of all things a self-labelled champion of edgy, independent music, as a crucial plot element pointedly bemoans the state of the industry and how people aren’t making music like they did in the good old days. Characters compare tastes in ‘offbeat’ tunes that likely reveal more about the screenwriters’ predilections than it does any salient fact we can cling to that would otherwise roundly elaborate on these fairly stock-standard portraits.
It is not a problem in and of itself that Kodachrome falls back on the trappings of its genre. Far from it, if blockbuster action flicks can recycle what works for audiences and still offer something new then all the power to them, and indie flicks, or anything else for that matter, aren’t any different. The problem is that none of Kodachrome’s formulations or key passages are so distinctly different from the films from which it clearly took inspiration (Little Miss Sunshine, Scent of a Woman), nor the archetypal offerings characteristic of innumerable precursors which will be more than evident throughout each of the film’s ensuing episodes.
Olsen, who is far more compelling in the recent Infinity War, is forced to contend with one of two largely deus ex machina roles present to burgeon the reunion of Matt and Ben. Her character’s relationship with the grudging artist is ill-defined from the outset and is only of the dynamics that abruptly changes tack. One of several elements hurriedly introduced in the latter half of the second act to seemingly compel conflict, leaps similarly abound in how characters interact as periods of consternation are resolved in an altogether perfunctory manner. Mechanically staged as they are, confrontations and their resolutions are as inevitable as they are inorganic, save a surprising exchange in a hospital that more than anything else elaborates on and justifies the evolving dynamic between our father and son.
Frustratingly, the other character visited upon proceedings for the purposes of furthering the plot, Ben’s manager (the excellent Dennis Haysbert), like an omnipresent force just seems to know everything that is going on at any one time, anywhere, as well as just the right characters to insert at just the right moment to help move things along. Yes they make a joke about it, but the film’s abundantly self-conscious, purposefully ironic tone at these junctures when it is largely trying to be sincere and sentimental doesn’t make it easy to just roll with it.
Worse still, for a road movie Kodachrome proffers very little conception of time travelled or distance. Somehow, the trio, barring an amusing early sequence, always seem to be in a motel or city; until one key arrival late in the piece, it’s very unapparent that the environment has shifted at all.
The final act, bearing a few of the film’s saving graces including some touching encounters between Ben and some newly introduced figures, is nevertheless let down by a wholly predictable if still touching conclusion. A hopeful indie darling just as derivative as many of it’s big-budget counterparts, three stars acting their hearts out isn’t enough to lift Kodachrome far beyond the quality of the material they had to work with.
Kodachrome screened at the American Essentials Film Festival and is in cinemas from June 7