For no other reason than to establish The Theme, Samantha Morton asks her mute, wheelchair-bound mother mid-film whether it’s better to have something than nothing, when you know you’ll never have everything. To find out, Expired hews to Sundance’s never-good-to-begin-with storytelling template: take one quirky outsider (the wackier her socks, the better), fill out her life with eccentric friends and family (don’t forget the kooky neighbor!) and have her narrate the idiosyncrasies of her experience.
Here, Morton plays the outsider, a gentle, mousy meter maid who, over a shared taste for plain M&Ms (a darker take on Juno’s orange tic-tacs), meets-cute her temperamental opposite: the pitiless Jason Patric, a failed astrophysicist (huh?) and fellow traffic cop, sporting a Super Troopers mustache-and-mirrored-glasses combo to prove it. Wondering if their romance could work, Morton lies in bed, staring wistfully into space. Miniucchi cues the Meaningful Music. It’s that kind of movie.
At least the writer-director plays down most of the inherent cuteness, swapping it for relentless mean-spiritedness. Patric dominates the movie with a performance hilariously profane, boastful, hotheaded and nasty; Morton, an unpleasantly obsequious abuse-sponge, serves as his straight woman. The actors lend sincerity to otherwise broad archetypes and Zoran Popovic’s cinematography supplies stylistic dignity, but they still can’t save Expired from its deleterious Park City clichés. As it stumbles past several serviceable endings, the film flounders amid cruelly contrived conflict and, finally, phony, feel-good empowerment. Turns out, mercy me, that you can have everything, even when you’ve got nothing.