Inspired by a New York Times article “For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas.” written by A.G. Sulzberger, comes Jonathan Tropper’s Kodachrome, a heartwarming film about an estranged father and son reuniting on road trip from New York to Kansas to deliver four rolls of Kodachrome film before the last photo lab capable of developing them closes forever.
The story begins by introducing us to Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis), a struggling record executive who lost his biggest client and upon returning to work, learns that his father Ben (Ed Harris), a famous photojournalist, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. After some convincing from his father’s nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen), Matt agrees to fulfill his father’s dying wish and joins both Ben and Zooey on their road trip to Kansas to deliver the film.
From the moment the trio hit the road, it becomes clear that this adventure is less about getting the film developed and more about three damaged individuals coming to terms with who they are, and ultimately, learning to forgive and forget. Tropper’s script is particularly impressive, as he took an article that could just have easily been a 30-minute documentary and turned it into something beautiful. Sure, we’ve all seen this type of story before, but that Kodachrome still has something meaningful to say about fathers and sons, and the frustrations inherent in our own mortality.
A major reason for why Kodachrome works is Ed Harris. He does such an outstanding job playing Ben, a jerk of a father seeking forgiveness from his son during his final weeks of life. Harris brings such life to the role, showing the true spirit of someone who’s happily accepted their fate and seeking to create lasting experiences that they can take into the afterlife. His relationship with Sudeikis’ character feels genuine and real, which only adds to the emotion of the film. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Ben and Zooey, as even though the former comes across as cranky and annoying, Zooey knows that deep down he is a good man.
Paired alongside two strong actors, it’s impressive how well Jason Sudeikis, known best for comedic performances, handles such a dramatic role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he was great in We’re The Millers and Horrible Bosses, but it’s nice seeing comedic actors break out and expand their range. I look forward to seeing what direction Sudeikis decides to take next.
Initially, I thought Zooey’s role was going to fade as the story progressed, with Matt and Ben being the focus and all, but her character was so much more important to the development of the story than I thought. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just leave it at that. Whether you know Elizabeth Olsen as the younger sister of the famous twins or from her role as Scarlet Witch in the MCU, if Kodachrome is any indication, she’s poised to break from the under the shadow of both.
While I did enjoy the film and had the pleasure of seeing it in theatres at the last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it’s a shame and kind of ironic that Netflix bought the rights, meaning most people will never get to enjoy the film the way director Mark Raso intended for them to see it – in theatres. See, he shot the film using actual Kodachrome film to honor the once popular method, but things don’t always work out as expected. On the bright side, given we’re entering the summer blockbuster season early with the release of Avengers: Infinity War this week, Kodachrome likely would have struggled to sell tickets, so it being on Netflix is kind of a blessing in disguise. This way people from all over the world will get to enjoy the film whenever they want, from the comfort of their own home (or wherever people watch Netflix these days).
At the end of the day, Kodachrome is a wonderfully written story with strong performances. It could have just as easily been a documentary, but Tropper saw something more: the potential to tell a story that will change the way you perceive a historical event. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all seen this story before, but what makes Kodachrome so special is the film’s heart. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll always remember, even if you only see it once. In a movie landscape with superhero this and lighsaber that, it’s stories like Kodachrome that will leave you feeling better for taking the time to watch.