The Ryder men are relics. Son Matt (Jason Sudeikis) is the kind of A&R dude who believes in the purity of music and his ability to just know when he hears something great, while his dad Ben (Ed Harris) is a lauded photographer who cherishes the look and feel of Kodachrome color reversal film and demands that his life remain “strictly analogue.” Despite their mutually affirmed dinosaur status, they are a long-estranged pair — and then a series of hinky contrivances shove them together in Mark Raso’s amiable “Kodachrome.” The conventional road trip dramedy mines that father-son dynamic for all its worth, but Sudeikis and Harris are very much up to the task, and their chemistry helps the film rise above its tropes.
The film draws from A.G. Sulzberger’s 2010 New York Times article about Kodachrome obsessives who made pilgrimages to small-town Kansas, where there’s one shop that will still develop their final rolls. However, “Kodachrome” only offers brief glimpses of the slice-of-life mini-dramas that made its source material so compelling. (Hey: Where’s that movie?) Instead, it focuses on the fractured bond between two men who are at the end of their respective, fraying ropes. Jonathan Trooper’s script sets the pieces in motion early, introducing conflicts and characters at a breakneck pace — though it easily telegraphs nearly every beat to come.
Matt’s slow-motion downward spiral — he’s not as good at his job as he once was, his company doesn’t really get him, his wife is long out the door — reaches an all-time low when his last big band cuts him loose. By their accounts, he’s not hip, can’t keep pace, and that just doesn’t cut it. Given one last chance to earn his keep, Matt is lured into a hare-brained scheme by the forceful Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen), who shows up in his office minutes after the worst business meeting of his life. Zooey is a stranger to Matt, but not his crotchety old dad Ben; she serves as both his nurse and personal assistant, a heavy gig considering that he’s dying. Hear that, Matt? He’s dying, and he wants you to come with him to Kansas to develop his last rolls of Kodachrome, either before he kicks the bucket or the last great photo shop closes up.
You can see where this is going.
Ben is one of those real bastard types, the kind of guy who says whatever the hell he wants because why the hell not. Long bolstered by his big-time talent and connections and now pushed to the brink by imminent death, Ben doesn’t offer a soft place for Matt to land. That’s the point. Soon, the trio embark on a road trip, complete with a planned stop to see Matt’s last big professional possibility, a rising band he is desperate to sign, a meeting arranged by Ben’s own people as a sweetener to this wild trip. Can this relationship be saved?
For all of its paint-by-numbers plotting, “Kodachrome” offers a few nifty twists, from an unplanned stop to see Matt’s aunt and uncle (with Bruce Greenwood appearing as Ben’s brother, canny casting) and a hotel-set reunion with some of his former colleagues — moments that bring the kind of well-earned emotion the rest of the film needs. Raso and cinematographer Alan Poon make some compelling lensing choices in the film’s final act, including a wrenching sequence involving Harris that nearly makes the film’s more conventional aspects melt away by sheer force of will.
Yet it’s Sudeikis, once again pushing away from his comedic roots into darker spaces, who carries the film. At first blush, his fast-talking smooth operator who is forced to find his own humanity seems like a standard Sudeikis role, but “Kodachrome” and Sudeikis reach for more. After his chilling turn in this year’s ambitious “Colossal” (another role that ably played with similar expectations, to surprising results), Sudeikis is steadily developing into a truly multi-faceted actor, his skills coming into sharper focus.
“Kodachrome” had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix acquired the film at the festival.