Road trips have long revved up the box office in Hollywood, from classics such as Easy Rider, Rain Man and Thelma & Louise to the more recent troubled journeys of Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland, Borat and Mad Max: Fury Road. And there's dozens more where these came from because, after all, it's fun to cram strangers, foes and frantic friends into a car, then fire them down the blacktop where the conflict rises with each passing mile.
The latest entry in this evergreen genre is Kodachrome, a Netflix global original which was released this month, with the promise of top-drawer drama and powerful nostalgia as it traces a last-ditch attempt to heal a family rift.
The story revolves around struggling music executive Matt (Jason Sudeikis), who finds his world turned upside down when his estranged father's nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) shows up unexpectedly in his office. Matt's father, a famed bad-boy photojournalist (Ed Harris), is facing terminal cancer. His dying wish is for Matt to join him on a road trip from New York to Kansas to process his last rolls of Kodachrome film before the sole remaining lab closes and those moments are lost forever.
"Kodachrome is a film about three people who are trying to navigate a world that has changed from grain to pixels, vinyl to mp3s, and analogue to digital," says director Mark Raso, who's a young Canadian talent to watch. He's a graduate of the MFA Film Programme at Columbia University and also won the prestigious Student Academy Award Gold Medal for his thesis film, Under,in 2012.
“Thrown together, each of them learns to accept the mistakes of their past in order to move forward with their lives and find love and acceptance in places they never thought they would,” he says.
The first actor to commit to Kodachrome was Harris. As Ben, he's a nasty bit of work and passionate about his art, but he's kept himself well insulated from loved ones.
"It's been really interesting playing this guy because he's complex," says Harris, 67, the recipient of four Oscar nominations for his films Apollo 13, The Truman Show, Pollock and The Hours. As well, he's won acclaim as of late for his gritty Man in Black gunslinger role in the HBO android series Westworld.
“Ben’s got a good sense of humour and it’s usually at the expense of somebody else. He knows he’s on his last legs here, so he doesn’t give a damn about too much and that offers a certain amount of freedom in terms of one’s behaviour.
"There's a lot going on inside that he doesn't know how to share or to reveal. Through the process of this journey, he gets to the point where he actually does express himself to his son, and I think his son hears him. He's not asking for forgiveness, but he's trying to explain himself on some level and let his son know that he cares about him."
Former Saturday Night Live star Sudeikis, 42, whose subsequent silver-screen work includes two Horrible Bosses films and the dark sci-fi comedy Colossal, says his character "avoids intimacy by giving up on things versus pushing people away – things that he loves like playing the drums, which he's still within a stone's throw of because he's still in the business side of music. That's his version of checking out before it was done. He's not taking responsibility for the apathy that he brings to the things that disappear in his life."
Olsen is the younger sibling of former Full House twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. She'll soon appear in Avengers: Infinity War in her ongoing role of superhero Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of her caregiver Zooey in Kodachrome, the 29-year-old says: "She's been dealing with Ben for three years so she's not oblivious to his [difficult] personality but she's become impervious and has developed a really thick skin, which works out to be a perfect foil between Ben and Matt."
“With Matt, she’s dealing with a colleague and peer and, with Ben, you see compassion and sweetness which creates a really interesting dichotomy. On one hand, holding her own ground strongly, and on the other, opening her heart. As Matt and Ben collide, Zooey’s treatment of both merges.”
Eric Robinson, a production partner with The Gotham Group, tightened his focus on Kodachrome when he optioned the rights to a December 29, 2010, New York Times story on the discontinuation of the fabled film, first introduced in 1935 by Eastman Kodak. "And we are here making this movie because Ed believed in the material – and working with him was a true honour and the culmination of a truly magical experience."
It’s an extraordinary thing for a film stock to inspire a cult following – as well as a 1973 hit pop tune for Paul Simon – but for many photographers, Kodachrome was and always will be “the king of film”.
The New York Times account detailed how a pilgrimage was under way to the last machine in the world that could develop Kodachrome film – a lab in Parsons, Kansas – where it was about to be retired.
“Dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here,” the article read, “transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a centre of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.”
"The Kodachrome story was the perfect allegory for the end of an era," says screenwriter Jonathan Tropper, who enjoyed constructing the character of Ben around Harris.
“He’s an actor who has a certain hardness. He’s almost like a granite man. It’s exciting to take someone with that much strength and rigidity and watch it crack. Because Ed’s such a good actor that when he cracks, he takes us all with him.”
Kodachrome is streaming on Netflix now