I’ve been seeing adverts for this Netflix original film all over Instagram for the past few days and I’ve been completely drawn in. There was so much about this that I figured I would enjoy that I just couldn’t wait to see it. Jason Sudeikis: yes. Ed Harris: hells yes. Elizabeth Olsen: oh yeah. Basically a version of Nebraska that’s filled with hispters instead of country folk: tick… I guess. I mean, yeah, there was no way it was ever going to be as good as the sensational 2013 film by Alexander Payne and there was a good chance it would end up being annoying hispter bullshit. But… it looked really good. I mean I’m probably just one fedora away from being a hipster anyway. Although, I’d probably need to start having actual feelings about avocado. I’m not entirely sure that ambivalence is an option. At the very least, I am getting annoyingly keen on taking photos at the moment. My non-book related Instagram is full of my attempts to get arty. I kind of hate myself but also really enjoy it. It’s a very strange sensation.
Kodachrome is a road trip movie that aims to mend the fractious relationship between a father and son. The son is Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis), who is recently divorced and super close to being fired from his job at an independent record label. He is fighting to keep his job when he is informed that his estranged father, Ben (Ed Harris), is dying. Ben is an incredibly talented and famous photographer who only shoots on Kodachrome film. Kodachrome is being retired so, upon finding four unprocessed rolls, Ben asks that Matt accompany him on a car journey to the only photo lab left that would be able to do it: Dwayne’s Photo Service in Parsons, Kansas. They are joined by Ben’s nurse and PA, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) who is also damaged from her previous marriage and desperate to convince Matt that Ben has changed. This is a journey with a huge double deadline and a hell of a lot of drama.
Although, you can’t escape the feeling that we’ve seen it all before. As soon as the set up is over, you’d have to be an idiot or watching your first ever film to not be able to see how this was going to turn out. It’s not exactly subtle or new. However, as with most journeys, this film is not about the destination but about how you get there. And, to be honest, there is something undeniably lovable about this film. The cast all work well together and have an endless supply of charm. It’s unfortunate that they never really get a great deal to work with but they have such screen presence you can forgive a lot of that.
Ed Harris, perhaps, get the worst deal because Ben is nothing more than a composite of all of those neglectful fathers we’ve seen a thousand times before. The kind of man who put his career before his family and, as such, puts up barriers with the people he loves. Harris’ dry humour works well with Ben’s cutting remarks and bluntness. Then, as the film gets into its final act, he manages to bring out some of Ben’s hidden tenderness but it’s kind of too little too late. Ben never feels like a real character. We never explore much about him or his art, which, considering the title of the film, would have seemed relevant.
It is Sudeikis who really flies off the screen here as he plays a man caught between a sense of duty and his inbuilt hatred of the man who cheated on his mother and abandoned his family. The actor manages to showcase Matt’s inner struggle and bring a great poignancy to the character. Matt feels the most real out of the bunch and his journey that is the most fleshed out. He also has a great onscreen chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen who manages to bring her usual effortless to charm to an underwritten and kind of contradictory character.
I’d have to say that Kodachrome is one of the best Netflix original films that I’ve seen for a long time but that’s not to say that it’s perfect. There are plenty of things lacking and plenty that just feels so obvious and lazy. The script is so by the book that it’s almost difficult to criticise because it feels so natural at this point. But it feels natural because of how many people have used this narrative. Then there’s the very idea at the core of the film: Kodachrome film itself. The film was based on an article that discussed the retirement of the film in 2010 and the sadness that was felt in the photography community. There is a certain amount of this emotion explored towards the end of the film but it could have been stronger. Ben is described as being steadfastly loyal to it but we never hear him talk about his passion. We never see too many hints that this really is the end of an era. It just feels like a kind of hackneyed and completely unsubtle metaphor.
But, despite all of this, I was still entertained and I was still invested in this film. The cast all do amazingly good jobs and Harris puts in way more effort that an actor of his calibre really should with this script. The trio all work well together and, along with Mark Raso’s beautiful direction, the film comes together to elevate it’s mediocre narrative. I’ve seen better Netflix films than this but, more importantly, I’ve seen a great deal more that were much worse.