Please challenge this generalization: If you select five works from the past century by Irish writers of any medium, poverty and the welfare state would be a prominent theme in at least one of them. Along with the IRA, the Catholic Church, and the Celtic Tiger, the story of deprivation has been frequently exported to our country. This could be because economic struggle makes for great memoirs. But if you strip a reliable construct of the distinctive environment and language that shape it, you’re only left with the construct itself. That is where you will find Parked — a well-intentioned but rote and expendable film.
The debut from both writer Ciaran Creagh and director Darragh Byrne, Parked is firmly grounded in a social issue that is clearly relevant given the current unyielding climate, but true to its name, it has motivation issues. Middle-aged Fred (Colm Meaney) has been living in his car in a beachfront parking lot since returning from an itinerant stay in England. The amount of time is immaterial, for Fred and his audience. He wakes up, brushes his teeth, changes clothes in a public bathroom, and writes poetry on a bench overlooking the ocean. That cycle is interrupted when the young junkie Cathal (Colin Morgan) makes camp in a nearby space. Initially wary of the cavity-mouthed mongrel, Fred warms to Cathal as they hang out at the local pool and wait for their mutual social worker to bring them lunch. Despite his addictions (or as a result of them), Cathal is carefree and something of an inspiration to Fred, going as far as urging him to ask out a woman (Milka Ahlroth) he meets in an aqua aerobics class — which is complicated and embarrassing since he lives in a cluttered hatchback.
The story goes further, involving a plan to bring Fred some media exposure so he can get on the dole and delving into Cathal’s escalating debt to his dealer, but these developments come long after interest has waned. As a character-driven piece, I can’t fault the screenwriter for being deliberate. But Fred’s stasis drags us down, and the conversations between him and Cathal are turgid and prosaic. Half the time they’re barely audible anyway, because their brogues are washed over by a sound mix turned up to eleven. Even if you dismiss this as a minor technical flaw, the jittery camerawork and occasional streams of piercing light are enough to make you want to leave the room.
Parked was shot in high-definition, which can have the undesirable side effects of pronouncing insignificant details and making the scenery and actors appear too real. Although Byrne was aiming for realism, I felt like I was watching from the set. I can’t blame the actors — Meaney sufficed and Morgan shined — because in the end it all comes down to the story and its pacing. The movement from listlessness to melodrama is mishandled and, taken together, this one falls on the wrong side of poignancy.