The road trip movie gets an unfiltered tone and a uniquely anachronistic destination in “Kodachrome,” a weighty portrait of a son and father grappling with issues of artistic ego and emotional unavailability. Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris do strong work playing harshly estranged, somehow pulling us close to their off-putting characters before forced sentiment in the late going undercuts director Mark Raso’s film.
Matt (Sudeikis) is an indie record exec whose stress over an unforeseen career crisis turns that much worse when he gets an unsolicited update on his dad, Ben (Harris), a celebrated photographer. Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), Ben’s earthy nurse, brings news that the old man is dying, and that he wants Matt to drive him from Jersey to Kansas to visit the last remaining photo lab processing Kodachrome slides. (The film gives story credit to a New York Times feature about a pilgrimage to the actual lab by real-life shutterbugs.)
We get a good look at Matt’s mean-spirited side as he tells Zoe that his absentee, philandering father is getting what he deserves. Then, once Matt grudgingly agrees to talk, we see where he gets his cruelty from, as Ben haughtily rebukes him for being a great man’s envious son. The Kansas trip would be a no-go, in fact, except that Ben’s savvy, connected manager (Dennis Haysbert) dangles an opportunity for Matt to save his tanking career.
Matt, Ben, and Zoe load their baggage — and their baggage — and set out, making narrative stops both expected and revealing. Ben insists they drop in on his brother and sister-in-law (Bruce Greenwood and Wendy Crewson) so they can make their overdue peace — but seemingly also to emotionally firebomb them for their kindness in raising Matt as a teen. Elitist Ben taps his artistic arrogance to offer his son sage, surprisingly heeded advice about how to handle a rock band. And simpatico Matt and Zoe find themselves falling for each other, albeit with some distractingly underwritten speed bumps to romance. The relationship comes across more naturally as they tipsily sing a flirty alt-shlock duet. (Sudeikis’s character’s music-industry background means that we also get the requisite shout-out to Paul Simon’s single.)
The pervasive, absorbing bitterness and hurt falter only when the story eases off its characters’ cynical insistence that people don’t change. Sudeikis knows how to play jarringly nasty — see “Colossal,” for one — but choked-up can be a reach here.
★ ★ ½
Directed by Mark Raso. Written by Jonathan Tropper. Starring Jason Sudeikis, Ed Harris, Elizabeth Olsen, Dennis Haysbert. At Kendall Square. 105 minutes. Unrated.