Despite getting certain technical details right, an on-the-nose script nearly derails what should be inevitable tears.
The well-meaning drama Kodachrome parallels a dying analog world with the failing human body. Its characters shoot film and play vinyl records, and the movie was even shot on 35mm stock, deep red hues and warm skin tones paying suitable homage to the film process that drives the title and central plot device. But despite getting certain technical details right, an on-the-nose script nearly derails what should be inevitable tears.
As the movie opens, Matt (Jason Sudeikis) is struggling to hold on to the rock bands signed to the independent record label he runs in Manhattan. His music career in jeopardy, he’s soon approached by Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), a nurse taking care of Matt’s estranged father Ben (Ed Harris), who’s dying of cancer. Ben is a veteran photojournalist, and after receiving his terminal diagnosis, he’s found some old rolls of soon-to-be-obsolete Kodachrome film. After he’s promised a meeting with a potential career-saving client in Chicago, Matt reluctantly agrees to take a road trip with Ben and Zoe to a Kansas facility which is the last remaining lab to process Kodachrome.
Kodachrome is framed around the true story of Dwayne’s Photo, the Parsons, Kansas lab that stopped processing Kodachrome in December 2010 after Kodak ended production of the proprietary chemistry. Any photographers who still shot film at that time will be familiar with the rush to get the last rolls of Kodachrome processed before the deadline. However, such photographers will also be well aware that Dwayne’s did a healthy mail order business, obviating the need for shutterbugs to descend en masse to Parsons, Kansas, when they could just drop take their rolls to the post office.
Thus the whole concept behind Kodachrome is contrived, and anachronistic to boot — its characters use smart phones that are beyond the technology of late 2010. What’s worse, much of Jonathan Tropper’s screenplay is made up of platitudes and banalities. Harris is ever reliable, but there’s nothing he can do with such tepid lines as, “No art worth a damn was ever created out of happiness,” or, “No matter how good something looks, you can’t beat the real thing.”
The strained father-son relationship at the center of the film would seem ripe for powerful drama, but this too is cheapened in exchanges like one in which Matt accusingly tells his father, “You never saw me,” to which Ben replies, “I see for a living – it’s what I do.”
The three leads often seem lost in the lousy dialogue they’re forced to find meaningful; they express more with their faces than any of the words written for them can muster. The last straw is the music cue that matches an inevitable emotional beat with a face-palmingly obvious lyric: “I’ve watched you go through changes that no man should face alone.” Photographers will be drawn to the potent idea of Kodachrome, but ironically, this drama inspired by a film stock that captured the vivid, real colors of life is thoroughly unconvincing.