UK DVD Review: PARKED

If you're going to make a movie that relies heavily on symbolism, you need either a particularly light touch, or to be bold enough about it people get swept away by your vision, no matter how daft it might come across on paper. Darragh Byrne's Parked has neither. It starts with that title, and the idea this is about a man whose life has stalled, almost literally - a nice, but pathologically self-centred loser whose declining circumstances mean he lives out of his car, and his fumbling efforts to turn things around. And it gets steadily worse from there.

The great Colm Meaney (Hell On Wheels, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) tries his hardest in the lead, but he can't do anything for a film that fumbles just about every loaded metaphor it tries to grasp. They're all so god damned obvious it's infuriating. A man paralysed with fear on a diving board, a stopped clock, a junkie's empty promises; weighed down by Byrne's leaden direction and Ciaran Creagh's dull, artificial script, none of these things ever become more than trite, condescending platitudes, obvious attempts at pushing the audience's buttons thrown in to make the film seem like the kind of meaningful drama it could never hope to be.

It's not completely without potential. Fred (Meaney) seems like he's stuck for any meaningful way forward in life. With no family, friends or job he parks his car wherever there's space until he's forced to move on. He follows a modest day-to-day routine, washing in public toilets so he can look vaguely presentable when he hauls himself to the unemployment office to look for benefits or a job, neither of which seem forthcoming. Then one evening Cathal (Colin Morgan), a young delinquent, spies Fred parked by the seaside and strikes up conversation.

Though it's initially more for amusement than anything else, Cathal seems genuinely curious about the older man. Cathal needling Fred to get a reaction turns into advice from one homeless person to another, and then - once Fred's worked up the courage to start talking to people on a regular basis - rough-edged, homespun wisdom. But it turns out Cathal's problems run a lot deeper than he's letting on, with his home life a mess and some pretty dangerous people very angry with him, and it becomes apparent that at some point Fred's going to become the one rescuing Cathal. But can he do this and fix his own problems, too?

This is no stretch for Meaney, who can handle light, unthreatening Oirish comedy in his sleep. Morgan - looking something like a very young Cilian Murphy - tries very hard to match the veteran character actor, to the point his nervous twitches do suggest a kind of presence rather than just the typical clichéd Hollywood addict. But their efforts are stymied at virtually every turn; from the way neither Byrne nor Creagh seem willing to admit how dumb the story seems, to how each sluggish plot beat gets treated as a perfect, golden moment, to the way the plot lurches into tragedy with a sledgehammer lack of subtlety, like some cartoon concept of how to portray contrition and the willingness to change.

Every single key piece of subtext feels like it's lifted wholesale from some directors' playbook, and never like a real, believable dramatic vignette. When Fred starts going to the swimming baths and stands trembling on the diving board, not yet ready to jump, it doesn't strike you as anything bar the writer tapping you on the shoulder yelling 'Do you get it? Do you get it?'. The use of this as a running motif only strengthens that conviction. And that's Byrne and Creagh being relatively subtle. Even Meaney can't sell 'Do you see what happens when you mess with drugs?' as anything other than cringingly inept moralising.

The shift come the third act into grim, kitchen-sink suburban drama as Fred tries to rescue Cathal tries even harder to make an impression. Morgan strains to convey helpless, frustrated grief at his character's inability to find the straight and narrow, but it's all so crashingly, childishly predictable. This is what happens when you mess with drugs, it seems to say, like an angry, hardline Catholic sermon. There shall be no laughter or frivolity to be had from illegal substances, merely suffering and misery. It feels as if Creagh wants to talk about these things very badly, but his script just ends up feeling mildly offensive.

Virtually nothing ever properly takes off, from the comedy to the mild peril to the pathos. What little support the two leads get fares even worse. Milka Ahlroth simply isn't given the chance to open up in any direction as Fred's potential love interest, and TV actor Michael McElhatton is wasted in a tiny role as Cathal's antagonist. Cathal is hardest done by, though, really - he's nothing if not a slightly dishevelled Manic Pixie Dream Boy, someone who exists for no real reason other than to metaphorically kick Fred in the rear. Even his final revelations are there more for contrast with Fred's plodding, nervous determination than anything else.

If you can see a man up on a diving board and think 'Oh, my - what is he doing?' without a hint of irony, then maybe you'd take to Parked. Anyone who's seen more than a few films where a lovable sad sack struggles to sort his life out, or who doesn't mind being a cynic every now and then, is more likely to find this strikes them as comically inept, and not in a good way. There's better out there, whether it's charming comedies, gritty low-key dramas or a mix of both. Darragh Byrne isn't completely without talent, and his cast and crew do their best, but Parked is both so tiresomely heavy-handed and ultimately undistinguished there's absolutely nothing to recommend about it.

THE DISC:

Element Pictures' UK DVD of Parked, available to buy now, is surprisingly good - a solid release with quality presentation and a decent set of extra features. The disc goes from the opening logos to a single trailer for This Must be the Place, then to the main menu - a simple, minimal setup that echoes the cover art and proves easy to navigate. The film has been divided into twenty-four chapter stops.

AUDIO:

The basic 2.0 stereo track is fine (5.1 is also available). Very little happens to really test anyone's speakers, with the score restricted to fairly innocuous twinkling piano for the most part and few raised voices. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, and no-one speaks with a particularly thick accent. Removable English subtitles are oddly smaller than most home video releases, down in the centre of the screen, but they're still clear, reasonably easy to read and largely free from errors.

VIDEO:

The picture is solid - Parked was clearly shot on the cheap, and much of it features grainy low-light shots or unpretentious interior setups which Byrne and DP John Conroy don't bother to dress up. But while the grain and fuzz probably wouldn't suit a giant screen, it still feels like a creative decision rather than a limitation of the disc. At the very least the simple DV trappings and cold blue filters are clean, simple and don't interfere with watching the film. The odd more artistic moments, like the tumbling leaves over the opening credits, come across very well.

EXTRAS:

There aren't many extras, but they're more substantial than might be expected. The theatrical trailer plays up the cheerful, comic aspects while largely ignoring the third act plunge into darkness, and does a reasonable job, though it feels as disposable as most trailers tend to. The Making Of is five minutes of B-roll set to music, again nothing essential, though it does emphasise the down home quality of the the production in general.

The interviews are the meat of the extras - one each with Byrne (12 minutes), Meaney (8 minutes), Morgan (8 minutes) and Ahlroth (5 and a half). They tend towards EPK fluff, sometimes, asking the actors to explain who they're playing and the like, but all four come across as confident, eloquent and charming, even if you flat-out disagree with their take on things (Byrne doesn't see the film as a message movie, for example, and Morgan doesn't think Cathal is portrayed as the typical drug addict). None of these extras come with subtitles, however.

Parked clearly means well, with a director who both wants to say something meaningful about a difficult social issue and to cloak it in human drama so his audience don't feel they're being spoon fed. But it's hard to say he succeeds on either count, despite the efforts of his cast and crew. The storytelling hits such grindingly obvious beats it can't help but come across as pitching a message, and the script itself is so clunky and artificial the actors responsible can't save it. If you've seen it and you disagree, or you simply feel like taking a chance, Element Pictures' UK DVD gives the film a fine standard definition home video release that's a great way to watch it - but Parked itself is pretty much impossible to recommend.
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