Parked, beautifully written by Ciaran Creagh and directed by Darragh Byrne, is the antidote to films populated by healthy, wealthy, slim and beautiful Americans, being about two homeless Irishmen, one a junkie and the other a dignified and proud man fallen on hard times.
Without shouting loud, Parked makes the point about how difficult it is to get by and turn your life around once you are in that position, though it is surprisingly charming heartwarming movie in the process, comprising the unlikely friendship of an unattractive odd couple and the two ways their predicament might end: one finally in a council flat, the other in a box.
I think it was Margaret Thatcher who once declared that there is no excuse for homelessness, which platitude is great for those living in warmth and comfort, but in practice we are all only a few pieces of bad luck from finding ourselves, like Frederick Daly (the excellent Colm Meaney), sleeping in his car in a car park by the sea.
Please, let it never happen to any of us, though the MPs and personalities who assuage their social guilt by spending a night sleeping rough on the streets really don’t know how soul-destroying the reality can be, especially when the hostels are crammed and the soup kitchens are all that keep you going, where you don’t know if you’re going to be beaten up, robbed of your shoes by junkies, frozen to death – and indeed imprisonment may be your best chance of getting a warm bed and a hot meal.
Daly is shamed by this downturn in his fortunes but retains his self-respect, determined not to “let go”. He shaves and brushes his teeth daily, washes in the nearest public toilets and swims in the local pool. His neighbour in the car park, residing in a small yellow number, is Cathal (pronounced Ca’al), a young junkie chucked out by his da and now in debt to the pusher for his spliffs and, as it turns out, smack. Cathal is played with shining intensity by young Colin Morgan, whom Meaney rates, with some justification.
Cathal and his mate Clippo don’t look further than his next joint, has no plans for the future and isn’t worried about respectability, but still bonds with Fred for no better reason than that they are in the same boat. Actually, they are good for one another: Fred becomes a father figure for his young friend, repairs his father’s watch (stolen but cherished) and keeps the young guy on the rails – even threatening to walk out when Cathal mentions he has smoked heroin until the younger man shows his arms without track marks.
For Fred, Cathal goads him to have self-confidence and live a little. This starts with ventures as small as diving off the lowest board at the swimming pool (only at the end of the film does Fred succeed in this small step for mankind), but more importantly to ask out on a date a friendly and attractive single Finnish widow, Jules (Milka Ahlroth), who does aqua-aerobics in the pool, plays piano in the church where Fred goes to take advantage of the free tea, and who seems attracted to him. Fred’s problem is simple: how could he ever admit to a decent and well-brought up person that he slept in his car? You could weep for the poor bugger.
In point of fact it never becomes an issue, since the planned meeting at the car park is waylaid by Cathal being beaten up by his pusher, Frank (Michael McElhatton) and having his car trashed, in spite of Fred donating his first social security payment and the last of his savings to the pusher – and even beating him up at one point.
For his friend this is something he will do, but what makes him walk away is finding that Cathal injects smack into the veins in his feet. This set of events sends Cathal into a tailspin, ending when he pleads for a fix and gets one at the expense of his shoes. The next time we see him is in his coffin. Fred attends the funeral, if only to pay his respects to the boy’s intense, distant and uncommunicative father, George (Stuart Graham.)
If this sounds grim, really it is not. In fact, the DVD box describes it as hilarious, and so it is – funny in a mellow and minutely observed way, the sort of comedy that can only come from first class character acting, fuelled by the tragedy of what becomes of us when our luck runs out. What it should do is remind everyone of the realities of homelessness, just as it reminds me of why I volunteer for Crisis at Christmas. Perhaps everyone should watch Parked, then do something about it.