Over Time, Everything Develops.
If you were born after the year 2000, chances are you’ve probably never heard of Kodachrome, a type of color film that was introduced by Kodak in 1935, which went on to become the preferred brand for photography enthusiasts everywhere. Sadly, the product was discontinued in 2009, when digital took over, with The New York Times writing an article in 2010 titled For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas, after author A. G. Sulzberger received a tip from a guy who’d heard that the last machine that could develop Kodachrome film was doing its final run. And so, hundreds and thousands of photography freaks from all over the country flocked to a small lab in Parsons, Kansas, called Dwayne’s Photo, the pundits eager to develop their last rolls of Kodachrome before the machine was retired for good.
It’s this real-world coda that serves as the basis for director Mark Raso’s comedy-drama Kodachrome, a by-the-numbers road-trip flick that follows three very different people (two that work in the rapidly shifting music and photography industries) as they embark on the aforementioned trek, each trying to navigate a world that’s changed from analogue to digital.
Shot on 35mm film (of course), Kodachrome tells the story of Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis), a jaded, recently divorced music executive that works for a small record company in the Big Apple, who’s probably trying a bit too hard to be hip. Although Matt’s got good taste in music, he’s about to be fired after his largest act jumps ship and signs on with another label. Matt’s only chance at staying afloat, though, is to convince an up-and-coming rock band called the Spare Sevens (terrible name) to sign with his label, a task that’s easier said than done. To complicate matters further, Matt is visited by a mysterious young woman named Zooey Kern (Elizabeth Olsen), who reveals herself to be an in-home nurse that’s been looking after his estranged terminally ill father Ben (Ed Harris), Zooey informing Matt that his dad doesn’t have long to live. It turns out that Ben’s final wish (before he dies) is to go on a cross-country road trip to Parsons, Kansas, with his son, to get four rolls of Kodachrome film (that he’d been holding onto) developed.
You see, Ben used to be a brilliant photojournalist, one who’d never forgotten a single snap, despite neglecting his family for his work. Naturally, Matt has no interest in joining his rude, obnoxious dad on any expedition, until Ben’s lawyer Larry (Dennis Haysbert) sweetens the deal by promising Matt that he’ll arrange a sit-down with the Spare Sevens in Chicago if he makes it a stopover on his voyage to Kansas with Zooey and his insufferable pop.
Directed by Mark Raso, Copenhagen (2014), Kodachrome starts off a little rocky, with screenwriter Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You (2014), doing his best to eliminate several plot holes right away. For instance, why doesn’t Ben fly to Kansas instead of drive? Well, he hates flying. Also, why doesn’t he just mail the film? Being an old school typa guy, turns out that Ben doesn’t trust FedEx either. Anyhow, once the mid-western trip gets underway, things pick up significantly, with character stuff coming to the foreground. Although Matt’s reasons for hating his dad aren’t overly shocking, Ben surprisingly never becomes that ‘asshole with a hidden conscience,’ rather he continues to cause trouble, even if, deep down inside, he longs for forgiveness and probably does love his son. Less surprising is the inevitable romance between Matt and Zooey, who start to get closer when the trio make a detour to visit Ben’s younger brother Dean (Bruce Greenwood behind a big bushy ‘stache) and his wife Sarah (Wendy Crewson) — who raised Matt in his father’s absence — the pair bonding over Matt’s vintage vinyl collection and later, that forgotten alt-rock hit by Live, ‘Lightning Crashes.’
Moreover, Kodachrome doubles as an ode to vintage technology, scribe Tropper commenting on the loss of tangible objects and what’s been lost in view of the digital takeover. Some of these observations, however, come across feeling a bit shonky seeing as Netflix has picked the film up for U.S. distribution. Harris, at one point, even throws Sudeikis’s cell phone out of their red Saab convertible, sneering at his son’s overreliance on modern tech — Sheesh!
Performances are the best thing this pilgrimage has got to offer, with Jason Sudeikis, Colossal (2016), leading the charge as our affable protagonist Matt, a 35-year-old everyman who’s kinda at a crossroads in life, Sudeikis constantly hitting all of his emotional beats with aim and precision. Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), is warm and endearing as Ben’s caregiver Zooey, a lost soul coming from a history of broken relationships, the fetching 29-year-old sharing an easy-going chemistry with Sudeikis, even though she’s constantly preventing her two male travel companions from exploding. Ed Harris, Pollock (2000), who’s sorta made a career out of playing tormented types, feels perfectly suited for the role of the egotistical windbag Benjamin, the veteran actor spending the bulk of his screen time arguing with his son over the merits of being a nice person versus being a famous artist — ‘No art worth a damn was ever created out of happiness,’ he grumbles. It’s also worth noting that the character of Ben was based on real-life photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his 1984 photograph ‘Afghan Girl,’ which was shot on Kodachrome stock.
A familiar tale of a family divided, Kodachrome travels a well-known, predictable route, with every emotional beat pretty much obvious from the get-go. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, given that leads Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris deliver strong performances, the cast instilling this journey with honesty, humor and heart. If this sounds like your kinda thing, buckle up and get ready for the feels. Just on a side note, if you’re expecting to hear Paul Simon’s 1973 hit ‘Kodachrome’ somewhere in the film, you’ll be bitterly disappointed to learn that it doesn’t show up at all, sigh.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Kodachrome is released through Icon Film Distribution Australia