Expired

expired.jpg
MCR Releasing
Cecilia Miniucchi/United States 2008

Expired is a work of great empathy, a love letter to an unlikely profession: the meter maid. In crafting a romance centered on such a hated occupation writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi makes the sort of daring, out-of-the-box decision that is all too rare in these play-it-safe, box-office-obsessed times. She takes figures caricatured in popular lore as uncaring and soulless, seen as bent on fulfilling arbitrary quotas without sympathy, and makes them into compelling human beings.

The film stars the inimitable Samantha Morton as sweet, passive Claire. She spends her days patrolling the streets of Santa Monica handing out tickets and her nights taking care of her sick mother (Teri Garr). Her gentle demeanor contrasts sharply with Jay (Jason Patric), a volatile, emotionally-stunted colleague (think an older Napoleon Dynamite with a mustache and anger issues). Nonetheless, real affection grows between them, although their significant insecurities complicate any relationship prospects.

Although the subject and the characters seem ripe for satire, Miniucchi boldly rejects any such urges. Instead, the filmmaker regards Claire and Jay with total earnestness, taking them seriously and refusing to judge their failings. In so doing, she draws out the complicated emotional baggage brewing beneath the surface lives of these two seemingly simple individuals. The leads – perfectly cast – enhance the portrait’s sincerity. Morton projects an affecting combination of innocence, loneliness and buried resolve. Patric, far removed from his usual suave self, convincingly navigates Jay’s sudden shifts from tenderness to unrestrained outrage. There is a person there, however frequently difficult and hard to tolerate.

Very much an L.A. story, the film unfolds in a milieu largely bereft of human connection, in which the interpersonal interactions experienced by both main characters largely consist of abusive encounters with their clientele. Claire spends her night at home with her barely communicative mother and Jay looks to the Internet for companionship. Given this context – the characters’ dismal days and lonely nights – it becomes possible to understand their drive towards one another and their pronounced personal failings. Throughout Expired its maker repeatedly rejects the standards of romantic fairy tale cinema in favor of something deeper and more resonant: a narrative that evokes the inextricable intertwining of one’s professional and personal lives while being cognizant of the fact that happily ever after does not come quite as easily as Hollywood usually makes it seem.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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