On two occasions in Darragh Byrne’s debut feature, Parked, Fred Daly (Colm Meaney), a proud homeless man living out of a car, steps onto a diving board at a local indoor swimming pool and tries to bring himself to jump into the water—and both times, he loses his nerve. By telling contrast, Cathal O’Regan (Colin Morgan), a younger homeless man, has no compunction about taking the plunge. In the film’s concluding scene, however, Fred finally musters up the courage to jump off that diving board. In light of all that has come since his last dive attempt, this should play as a cathartic moment of personal triumph—but because Byrne and screenwriter Ciaran Creagh fail to fully breathe inner life into this character, the moment is robbed of any deeper resonance beyond its purely symbolic function in the narrative.
That one failure more or less represents the larger inadequacy of Byrne’s film, which takes dramatic material that sounds fairly standard-issue to begin with—the life-changing friendship that develops between two homeless outsiders, one middle-aged and world-weary, the other young and impulsive—and proceeds to uncover precious little of genuinely fresh intrigue within it. The filmmakers laudably attempt to tackle the problems of homelessness and the class divide in Ireland not in the manner of a heavy-handed state-of-the-nation address, à la Paul Haggis’s Crash, but as an intimate character drama in which such social issues lightly hover over the story and characters. If only the drama itself didn’t feel so two-dimensional. Fred, who’s just returned to Ireland from England, is apparently still dealing with heartbreak from a recent divorce; Cathal, meanwhile, is knee-deep in trouble thanks to unpaid debts as a result of his drug habit. The screenplay merely hints at everyone’s backstory, but instead of coming off as mysteriously ambiguous, the characters just seem thinly drawn, rarely rising above the archetypal. Worse, insufficient interest is generated in their fates to transcend the three-act neatness of the screenplay (Creagh’s own background as a playwright comes through loud and clear, mostly for the worse).
Within such a context, one would hope that the performances would pick up the slack—and they do to a limited extent. Meaney and Morgan’s chemistry is convincing, making Fred’s rediscovery of his youth in Cathal’s presence at times play more affectingly than the material deserves. Meaney’s stunned and excited facial expression after Fred has made a reckless turn while driving his car on Cathal’s urging is particularly memorable, adding fleeting emotional weight to the film’s clichéd themes. Unfortunately, there’s only so much these skilled performers can do with characters that are barely filled out to begin with, though they fare somewhat better than poor Milka Ahlroth, who’s stuck with a role—a music teacher and aspiring composer who’s Fred’s burgeoning love interest—that’s even less fleshed out. Parked is the kind of middling bore in which the notes are all laid out, but the music never floods through.