Expired: Miniucchi’s Feature Debut, Offbeat Story Starring Samantha Morton and Jason Patrick

Cannes Film Fest 2007–“Expired,” the feature directorial debut of the acclaimed documentary and music-video director Cecilia Miniucchi is a goofy, offbeat love story between kind-hearted meter operator and a traffic control officer, well played by the endlessly creative Samantha Morton and Jason Patrick in sort of a comeback role.

Small in size, intimate in scale, “Expired” shows promise for greater things to come from Miniucchi, who here reveals a good ear for offbeat characters, humorous dialogue, and a light touch in directing a romantic fable that knows exactly when to stop when pathos and sentimentality threaten to dominate the tone.

“Expired” premiered to critical and audience acclaim in the American Spectrum section of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was one of 83 world premieres selected from more than 3,287 feature films submitted to the festival. The film also played at the 2007 Cannes Film Fest as closing night of the Critics Week sidebar, which shows only seven films.

The scenario is based on a simple but realistic assumption that the sight of a dark-suited municipal employee doling out parking violations stirs primal hate in most people, and that individuals employed in such line of work, such as the heroine Claire is well aware of the implications of her work.

Assuming the shape of an old-fashioned indie of the 1980s, “Expired” is a mostly two-character tale about the evolving relationship between Claire, a kind soul who resents having to enforce the law at all times in sunny Santa Monica, and Jay, an angry Traffic Officer who loves his job, which is an outlet for his anger and frustrations.

Coming both from despair and loneliness, Claire and Jay meet and engage in a tumultuous and twisted relationship, which eventually teaches them that love can bring redemption and hope in the most unlikely of soulsand in the most unlikely situations.

Encouraged to reach out from her sheltered existence, Claire agrees to a lunch date with her colleague Jay, a bachelor affected by the twin demons of loneliness and regret. Their first date reveals considerable differences in their temperaments, but Claire and Jay realize a relationship offers each of them a chance to emerge from their shells.

Indeed, at first, the protags appear to be total opposites. Claire is kind-hearted and sympathetic to the people she tickets, while Jay is angry, brusque and abrupt. Although their personalities couldnt be more different, the colleagues feel a powerful mutual attraction and put aside their fears to embark on a tumultuous romantic relationship, holding that all it will take to save them is “a little change,” not realizing the more grave issues of engagement and commitment.

As such, the comedy’s theme is universal, centering on the nerve-wracking decisions that most people have experienced of whether to continue or end a love affair, and how to pursue these goals without totally losing self and mutual respect.

Alongside the impressive lead actors, the ensemble includes Teri Garr in the dual roles of Claires devoted mother and Aunt Tilde, and Illeana Douglas as the friendly neighbor, Wilma.

As writer and director, Miniucchi perceives “Expired” as a celebration of the power and magic of love. In the production notes, she is quoted as saying: “I want to encourage people to leave their cocoons and feel pleasure, pain, laughter and anguish. Life is all about getting out there and living it. Not all opportunities for relationships are ultimately successful, but even challenging associations offer the opportunity for personal growth and self-awareness.