Maid to Lose

Expired
Running Time 110 minutes
Written and directed
by Cecilia Miniucchi
Starring Samantha Morton, Jason Patric, Teri Garr

“Expired” is the word you see before they tow your car away. So it is little wonder that a new movie called Expired should be about—what else?—a meter maid. “I’m one of the most hated people in the world,” says Claire, a poor, hapless Santa Monica parking enforcement officer played with wistful, unhappy but eternally optimistic fervor by the quirky actress Samantha Morton. “People run from me like the plague. Insult me. Give me the finger. Verbally abuse me.” And while they do it, she smiles sweetly and says, “Have a nice day.” Next to dentists, meter maids probably have the highest professional mortality rate.

Life is miserable at home, too. Lonely, plain, unmarried, Claire’s life story is written in invisible ink. She shares a bleak little house with flickering light bulbs and garish, fading wallpaper with her invalid mother (Teri Garr), who suffers from dementia. It’s such a dull life they order their Christmas tree from a catalog. Things start to show promise when Claire meets another traffic warden named Jay (Jason Patric), but he turns out to be a hostile, miserable loser—so angry he kicks people’s tires and punches them out in the middle of the street. Claire tries to be consistent in her compassion, offering help and friendly advice, but Jay is so incapable of any emotion except rage that he spends his evenings off eating sandwiches, watching TV and dialing for telephone sex. He’s an asocial mixture of nice-guy support and obnoxious cruelty. (The night Claire’s mother has a stroke while mashing potatoes, he gets out of bed to call an ambulance, then tells her, “You know, you should whiten your teeth.”) Even on an escape from L.A. to Pomona to visit her crazy aunt (also played by Teri Garr, with a bit more animation and a different wig), Claire is constantly ridiculed and tortured by Jay, whose sarcasm finally sheds some light on the banal hopelessness of their aborted romance. By the time this offbeat love story about two extremely unhinged, likable but mismatched eccentrics grinds to a close, Claire has learned to be that rarest of things—not only a meter maid, but a compassionate meter maid. (She watches over people’s cars when their meters expire.) It could never happen in New York.

Made for peanuts by writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi, this bargain-basement indie-prod is slow in tempo but never dull, thanks to Ms. Morton, whose naïve, wide-eyed bewilderment resembles a newborn bird that just cracked out of a claustrophobic shell searching for its first worm; and Mr. Patric, playing against type in the kind of light, bumbling role usually reserved for Tony Danza. It’s rare to see him without his usual clenched fists and pounding testosterone; he’s such a mess as a walking road rage waiting to explode that he makes you laugh in spite of yourself. It makes you realize how most of his movie roles have wasted him shamefully.

rreed@observer.com

Maid to Lose