They say people can endure having nowhere to live, but having nothing to drive is licking the very bottom of the barrel. That fate hasn’t come to “Parked” protagonist Fred Daly (Colm Meaney), at least not yet. But he’s inching closer, as he eases his Mazda into a parking lot on Dublin’s east coast. This car is now officially Fred’s home; after moving back to his native Ireland after years in England, he has nowhere else to go.
“Parked” is a 2010 movie that made it to the U.S. in 2012, and here it is in Japan, another two years later. Directed by Darragh Byrne, Fred’s story reflects the times in which it was made — the world was in the throes of economic disaster, with joblessness and homelessness fast becoming the new normal. Looking at Fred’s plight now, we are hit with a sinking realization that not much has changed — except that the rich came back on the upswing and now drastic inequality is the new normal.
As far as Fred is concerned, he’s probably better off in his car than having a government system intervene with shelters and unreliable safety-net plans. At least this way he can hold onto a measure of personal dignity and a sliver of personal space.
Fred often just sits there in front of the steering wheel, staring at the sky. In the mornings, he gets out to brush his teeth and ponders how to fill the hours. But when 21-year-old Cathal (Colin Morgan) — fellow homeless and dope fiend — parks next to him and proves to be a fully engaging neighbor, Fred starts to feel alive again. The pair swap various strategies for showering, doing laundry, getting meals and exercising. In short, they hang out like buddies.
Sometimes Fred gets a mild panic attack (not surprising for a newbie homeless), and in these moments, it’s the much younger Cathal who tells him not to give up, to seek love and joy where he can find it. Fred doesn’t need nudging in that direction as he’s already taken with Jules (Milka Ahlroth), an attractive Finnish music teacher whom the pair meet at the local swimming pool.
Aptly, “Parked” has all its gears in neutral. It doesn’t soar with life-affirming sentiment, nor sink with social injustice woes. Meaney, best known for his role in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,” is just the man to play Fred: Pudgy and sad-looking but not tragically so, Meaney gives a performance that is pitch perfect; he always seems unsure whether to smile or cry, and his homeless existence (despite his friendship with Cathal) is largely defined by pretending it never happened. (“I’ve just moved back… from abroad!” he explains to Jules.) Whenever the pretense wavers or is challenged, Fred’s eyes fill with anxiety behind his glasses. Otherwise, he rarely lets on to the turmoil swirling inside him even as he learns to embrace his wild side.
Cathal, for all his street-smart ways, has no self-defense mechanism. Disowned by his dad, pursued by loan sharks and unable to lay off drugs, Cathal is a walking open wound. But what a sweet smile. He’s the lifeblood of “Parked,” pulsing with youthful spontaneity. And as he later demonstrates, no matter what happens (or doesn’t), you can’t just stay in the same parking spot forever.