Debuting on Netflix today (but also getting a limited run at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema) is Kodachrome, the latest from director Mark Raso (Copenhagen) about a record company A&R man (Jason Sudeikis) on the verge of losing his job. Simultaneously, he’s effectively bribed into accompanying his long-estranged father (Ed Harris), one of the world’s greatest, old-school photojournalists who also happens to be in the final stages of terminal cancer, on one last car trip so Harris can get his recently discovered rolls of Kodachrome film processed before the country’s one remaining lab shuts down.
The son, Matt, agrees to the trip from New York to Kansas only because his father Ben’s lawyer (Dennis Haysbert) agrees to set up a meeting with a band that Matt really wants to sign in order to save his job. Accompanied by Ben’s assistant/nurse, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), the three head out in Ben’s convertible, and the road trip movie begins. The screenplay by Jonathan Tropper (based on an article about the lab by A.G. Sulzberger) doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground in the family drama sub-genre of father-and-son relationships. Ben is a piece of shit human being and an even worse dad who abandoned his family when Matt was fairly young. When his mother died of cancer when Matt was barely a teenager, he went to live with his dad’s more stable and settled brother (Bruce Greenwood) and his wife (Wendy Crewson), and they became the parents Matt lost.
The road trippers make a stop to see the uncle and aunt, and even in the short time they are there, Ben manages to stir up trouble. The family drama aspects of the story don’t work quite as well as the conversations about the changing world, as seen in these last roles of film. Ben ponders the idea that photos aren’t permanent any longer; they simply exist on Facebook or Instagram pages or on people’s phones, but you can’t hold those in your hands like a processed photograph. It’s only when he considers that the analog way of doing his job is in a race to death with him does Ben become sympathetic as a human being.
It’s almost disappointing that the script feels the need to push Matt and Zoe together as a romantic couple. Even Ben makes a joke about how them pairing up makes sense, but there seem to be bigger issues floating around this trip than an uninspired love story. We find out that Zoe’s past is full of emotional bumps in the road as well, but rather than explore everybody’s pain, Kodachrome forces everything toward a mostly happy ending that isn’t earned. All of the actors do quite excellent work, but they are working to stabilize a rickety framework with no guts or supporting emotions.
Olsen is the standout here, if only because she makes Zoe seems spontaneous and unpredictable, unlike her traveling companions. Harris’ bad-boy act is almost generic, and Sudeikis is certainly charming, but his character makes choices at points in the movie that make no sense. Kodachrome is an easy film to make it through painlessly, but it’s also highly forgettable and lacks the emotional power to make its mark on your heart or head.