Dir/scr: Cecilia Miniucchi. US. 2007. 110mins.
'I'm the most hated person in the world,' Samantha Morton's shy, emotionally withdrawn parking meter enforcer says at the opening of Expired, a title that proves unfortunately apt.
The movie proves exhausting, obliterating patience, understanding or emotional conviction in its portrait of female desire, love and heartbreak. The story tracks the somewhat unhealthy relationship that develops between Morton's Claire and her abrasive colleague, Jay, played by Jason Patric with a sneering, swaggering arrogance and misogynist entitlement.
Morton is a typically brave, fearless actor, working in a very convincing American accent. Her romantic adversary played proves so brutish, abrasive and unpleasant in the playing and conception of the character that it throws the rhythms and any appreciation of the movie completely out of whack.
In ways that are almost certainly unintentional, the movie bears uncanny plot and characteristic details to the recent School For Scoundrels, the failed Todd Philips' comedy. The cast has enough recognisable names in Morton, Patric, Teri Garr and Ileana Douglas that grant it some commercial viability. The Spectrum title appears poised for limited theatrical release, with far stronger prospects in ancillary markets in DVD and cable.
Internationally, Morton's name and impeccable reputation is a compelling factor for UK and Australia dates. Likewise, its best revenue prospects are non-theatrical.
Morton plays Claire, a Los Angeles parking administrator, subject to daily taunts and petty humiliations for carrying out the unwelcome nature of her job. Attractive though somewhat emotionally withdrawn, she lives in a small apartment caring for her physically impaired mother (Garr).
From the start Miniucchi appears determined to unload as much misfortune on Claire as possible, making her plain, uncharismatic, a magnet pity for abuse, including a careening car that smashes into her and renders her temporarily immobile.
Following her recovery, she returns to the job, her faith and optimism in the human condition undaunted. She crosses paths with Jay (Patric), a good looking though aggressive, almost insanely ambitious fellow parking enforcer.
For reasons that never cohere emotionally or intellectually, Claire returns over and over to his solitary, nasty world (one that includes his repeated sexual fixation on internet pornography).
Claire remains enthralled to him despite his constant criticism of her physical attributes, or more problematically, his sexual disdain or belligerence toward her. As their professional circumstances splinter off, her career soaring and his in decline, Jay turns particularly nasty and abrasive.
Astonishing she repeatedly forgives him. The filmmaker seems content to accentuate her misfortune, almost taking the very disturbing argument that an unhealthy relationship is preferable to nothing.
In this regard, Expired plays like one of Lars von Trier's stories (Breaking The Waves, Dogville) of suffering female martyrs, and the men that brutalise them emotionally, because it is part of their larger salvation. The character of Jay proves so reprehensible, the movie turns exceptionally unpleasant. During a particularly ugly exchange, Claire declares her love and not a note of the moment rings true.
Garr injects some much-needed humour, playing two parts, playing combative sisters-Claire's mother and aunt.
Technically, the movie is smooth and well-engineered without ever truly becoming distinctive. Zoran Popovic's cinematography uses sharp advantage of Los Angeles locations. Natalie Sanfilippo's production design underlines the divisions of the two characters' worlds, the inviting, quiet living of Claire's apartment and the soulless, anonymous look of Jay's apartment.
Morton required a story and director more attuned to her special gifts. Expired leaves her brutalised and punished.