An estranged father and son take a road trip together to mend a fractured relationship. If that synopsis sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve watched Alexander Payne’s Nebraska: a film that explored the above dynamic with far greater richness than Mark Raso‘s Kodachrome.
Kodachrome isn’t so much a “bad” film as it is a predictable one. The film centers on Matt (Jason Sudeikis), a record label scout, and Ben (Ed Harris), Matt’s father. Ben is a world renown photographer, who’s also dying of cancer. He sends Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), his nurse and assistant, to approach Matt about taking a road trip to develop his old Kodachrome film at the last place that handles the medium.
The estranged father-son trope is usually a powerful one because blood binds us, especially parent to child. Our default is to love our parents, and them in return. And when even we do gesture from that basic human instinct, we do, in the end, tend to default to our familial programming. Raso knows that his film will follow this pattern, so it’s the journey that matters.
And unfortunately, the journey is all too familiar: from the father-and-son fights, to Zoe acting as ringleader and referee, to Zoe and Matt’s blossoming relationship. In fact, the major fault of Kodachrome isn’t just that the expected happens, but that it occurs so quickly. By the 40 min mark, you’ve essentially got the film. The next hour just plays out the string. Mainly, because Matt and Ben are rarely put in adversarial situations. Yes, Matt and Ben are always trading verbal jabs with each other, but nothing is spouted other than “you’re an asshole!”
Yea, got that in the first 10 minutes.
Nebraska provides a road map in that regard (pun certainly intended). Bruce Dern’s Woody is alcoholic, vitriolic, and bumbling. Suffice to say he has far more dimension than Harris’s Ben, who fulfills every “difficult artist” cliche out there. Which is a major issue with Kodachrome: the characters are flat. We’ve seen Harris’s character before, and in better forms. Sudeikis’s is at two ends of the extreme: from I hate you to I love you, with a transitional period that’s almost nonexistent.
A film that so heavily depends on their relationship, Raso wants us to draw empathy from this fractured family, yet that empathy never holds nor begins.
Even the music is predictable, with most of the soundtrack dealing with “fading away.” Took a long time to find those tracks, I’m sure. When Olsen is going through Matt’s old record collection she finds Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Radiohead (real edgy Matt). And the story itself depends upon Matt being a record label scout, but the original music for the film is cliche filler. If the music industry is trying to sign the same type of acts as Matt is, then we’re all screwed. And typically, I’m not that big of a stickler of these “minor contrivances,” but they are integral to the story and character development.
What is attractive about Kodachrome is its palette and mirror shots. The film relies on red early on: drapes, handkerchiefs, and hotel doors, clearly representing death and anger. Surrounding these splashes are cool tones, typically light blue for Sudeikis and Olsen, and white for Harris. The use of cool tones is probably an homage to the Kodachrome style, as it was known for its softness (Raso also decided to shoot the film in 35 mm). Also, the mirror shots involving Harris do emphasize Ben as a self-reflective figure, (another intended pun) as he grapples with his relationship with his son.
Nevertheless, these astute artistic choices can’t save the film from its own story. Because while Matt and Ben travel the country to develop these old canisters of film, there’s always the question of what’s inside them. But the question is more rhetorical than genuine because the contents of the canisters are clearer than Ben’s photography, making the ending painstakingly obvious.
With a stronger script, maybe Harris, Olsen, and Sudeikis’s performances wouldn’t have been wasted like the tenth selfie you took in the mirror this morning. Maybe we’d been given characters with more uniqueness than an Instagram filter. But then again, maybe we’d have Nebraska. You can find Kodachrome on Netflix.