Perhaps because I am a non-driver, I do not possess the instinctive hatred for traffic wardens that many in society do. To me, they're just people earning a wage like anyone else. However, my opinion may change if I ever met a traffic warden like Jason Patric's here in Expired, Cecilia Miniucchi's fresh and bittersweet indie take on the romantic comedy genre. He really is the most astounding, grotesque bully of a creation, brilliantly brought to life by Patric.
Expired tells the story of two very ordinary, uncharismatic characters who are ostensibly outcasts of society in both their temperament and their work as traffic wardens. Samantha Morton draws beautifully on her natural vulnerability to play the well meaning and good natured Claire, a instinctively kind soul whose job means that her kindness is not always returned. In sharp contrast is her colleague Jay, played by Patric, an angry ultra-macho male who seems to use his job as an outlet for all his aggression and the frustrations he feels about the world and his life. Both are despairing and lonely and both engage in an unlikely, awkward romance.
Expired is very much in the traditions of Mike Leigh in that it is a comedy that mines its humour from social awkwardness (also known as 'cringe comedy', a somewhat rebranded style that reached its apex as a popular genre thanks to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) and at times its humour evokes reactions that have you both laughing and taking a sharp intake of breath at how inappropriate and unfair it is. It's the kind of film I imagine some would watch with their hands up to their faces, and that's something of a Leigh tradition in itself, harking all the way back to Bleak Moments. Indeed, it's easy to identify both Claire and Jay as typically Leigh characters - Indeed, you could amuse yourself imagining Expired as a late 70s/early 80s Play For Today set in bleak, drizzly London as opposed to a Christmassy LA, and starring Phil Davis and Janine Duvitski.
I've seen some really unfair criticisms for this film. Many argue that characters like Claire and Jay do not exist, but they really, truly do, and that Miniucchi provides no explanation as to why Claire puts herself through this ordeal. Well, these critics mustn't have been watching with their full attention as its clear from the heartbreaking question she poses to her mute, wheelchair bound stroke debilitated mother along the lines of whether it is better to have something (ie an unsatisfactory relationship with someone she constantly has to second guess and be on eggshells with) than nothing at all. Likewise many claim that Claire simply would not put up with Jay but, as we know all too well, abusive relationships do exist out there unfortunately.
This is a poignant and very funny film exploring two people coming to terms with their needs and longings in a crazy, tough world with no easy answers. In short, it's perhaps too much like reality for some to enjoy. It's not a perfect journey, there are no happy endings, life just goes on as Claire concludes.