Director Darragh Byrne
Starring Colm Meaney, Colin Morgan, Milka Ahlroth
Distributor Element Pictures
Release Date Oct 2011
A little late, perhaps, but Irish film-makers seem to have finally realised it’s 2011, and have started examining the big Irish theme of the moment: the recession and the spectacular fall of the Celtic Tiger. Terry McMahon’s upcoming Charlie Casanova has been much praised as a critical examination of excess. While we await a commercial release of that film, we have Darragh Byrne’s Parked: a very accessible study of the loss of material wealth.
Colm Meaney stars as Fred Daly, recently returned home to Dublin from England for unspecified reasons. All he has to his name is his car and a boot full of material possessions and toiletries. Unable to find accommodation or collect the Dole, he takes up residence in a beachside car park, sleeping in his car and surviving off meals-on-wheels. Here he befriends his ‘neighbour’, the friendly but troubled Cathal (Colin Morgan). As Fred looks for accommodation and a job, he falls for the widowed Jules (Milka Ahlroth) and tries to help Cathal out of his increasingly dangerous drug habit.
The story is engaging for the most part, and certainly has its finger on the pulse of society (it’s telling that a notable number of scenes take place in social welfare offices). Fred’s refusal to abandon optimism makes for an endearing protagonist, and it’s hard not to root for him. Of greater concern, though, is Cathal’s story. It dominates the film during the middle section, and is mostly notable for its simplistic depiction of an addict. It has little of insight to say: ‘drugs are bad’ is a sentiment overly familiar to audiences, and one handled with more flair and originality elsewhere. It lends a film an unnecessary air of melodrama, and drags down the film as it enters its second hour. That said, the final act doesn’t play out exactly like one would expect: it’s crowd-pleasing and emotional, but to writer Ciaran Creagh’s credit not everything is wrapped up in a nice little package. It’s a shame that a distinct lack of originality or unique perspective drags it down elsewhere, though.
Parked, as you might have gathered, plays it relatively straight. There are a few lighthearted attempts at comedy, but for the most part it’s serious business, especially towards the end. It emerges as a coming-of-(middle)-age story, showing Fred adjusting to a new, homeless existence. For the most part, it’s competently directed by Byrne and shot by cinematographer John Conroy in a grimy, handheld style. However, a few pleasant visual touches are welcome. A sunlight-drenched prologue (a ‘flash-forward’ to the end of the story) is a particularly pretty sequence, with pleasantly excessive lens-flair than would make even J.J. Abrams blush. I was less fond of the overly whimsical and twinkly soundtrack, however – while it has a narrative justification of sorts, it mostly sounds tacky.
Meaney acts somewhat against type here. Most often relegated to supporting roles, it’s strange seeing him take centre stage. But he handles it well. In a largely unshowy, down-to-earth performance, he portrays a man who doesn’t let a series of misfortunes drag him down. It’s not a tour-de-force, but Fred is rarely less than likable. Elsewhere, the performances are mostly fine if overblown in that very distinctive way Irish performances usually are. The Finnish Ahlroth is grand if unremarkable as the love interest, and serves as the only obvious indicator of Helsinki Film’s unusual involvement in the production. Like Once, it’s notable that a foreign national plays such a central role: quietly acknowledging the increased multi-culturalism of Irish society.
Conclusion : Parked is generally an enjoyable diversion: it’s neither remarkable nor unremarkable. A few misjudged and overly melodramatic plot points aside, it makes the most out of its simple, interesting central concept of a guy living in his car. Charming, if disposable.
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