Expiration (2003) Movie Review

In my neverending quest to give back to the world, I offer this advice: When leaving a Note of Utmost Importance to your pregnant girlfriend, who is sleeping it off inside your parked car, it’s a good idea to leave the note inside the car instead of outside wedged underneath the windshield wipers. Hence, when your erratic girlfriend wakes up and assumes that you have bailed on her (your note having predictably blown away during the night), she won’t make the boneheaded decision to get out of the car and go walking around a strange city in the dead of night, thus (predictably) getting into all manner of trouble.

Of course the above advice only makes sense if writer/director/star/caterer Gavin Heffernan was suffering from Contrived Movie Scenario-itis, a common virus that tends to infect a lot of movies nowadays. Then again, if the reason Sam (Heffernan) had left the message on the car’s windshield was because he unconsciously hoped that it would blow away, thus giving the wrong message to his maybe-girlfriend Niki (Erin Simkin), I beg forgiveness. Could it be that Heffernan’s script is that subtle? Having been burned by too many lazy screenwriters in the past, I dare not invest too much faith in this notion.

Nevertheless, the above ambiguity is one of the reasons why “Expiration” is a surprisingly entertaining film. As small-town Sam maneuvers through the seedy streets of Montreal with drug-courier-on-the-crossroads Rachel (Janet Lane), Heffernan peppers the viewer with enough imagery, symbolism, and motif to choke a horse. Obviously the product of a fine institution of higher learning that offers a film program (or an uncanny facsimile), Heffernan knows filmmaking. As a result, the movie quickly sheds its shot-on-video tag and earns its stripes as an ambitious film that, more often than not, achieves what it aims for.

Baby face Heffernan leads the talented cast as Sam, who as the film opens is informed by Niki that she’s pregnant with his baby. Although Sam has no serious feelings for Niki, personal obligations convince him to do the right thing. With plans to propose marriage during a night out in Montreal, fate intervenes and Sam is separated from Niki. (Continued separation comes to past by way of the aforementioned Conveniently Missing Note of Utmost Importance.) Sam promptly encounters the troubled Rachel (Lane) during a store hold-up, and after the robber flees with Sam’s engagement ring and Rachel’s cache of drugs that she must deliver or risk untimely death, the two strangers team up to pursue the criminal. Thus begins a memorable night in Montreal.

Putting aside the case of the Conveniently Missing Note of Utmost Importance, “Expiration” offers a satisfying brew of colorful characters and strange situations. The lovely Janet Lane makes a convincing lost soul, even if the screenplay sometimes skimps on her background just a tad too much. While we do get a number of flashes courtesy of seamless editing to reveal what has lead Rachel to her current point of desperation (including the always popular game of “which syringe has the AIDs in it?”), a bit more of Rachel’s past would have been welcomed. Then again, there’s something to be said about making the audience do most of the legwork.

With Sam and Rachel racing from location to location in pursuit of their lost goods, Niki is left to wander the mean streets alone. She meets up with tough cookie prostitute Julia (Denise Depass) and her slightly screwed up daughter Naomi (Yetide Badaki). Niki’s adventures lead to an intense scene involving an unconscious would-be-rapist and a big knife in the hands of an angry teen. But the fact that Sam and Rachel are tied at the hips throughout most of the movie pretty much gives away the film’s obvious conclusion. A bit more of a question mark involving the fates of the 3 characters would have been preferred.

Although the movie’s title and boxcover conjures up gloomy scenarios, the film itself offers up a healthy dose of humor. Even the film’s penultimate plot point, involving a hyperactive junkie and the roof of a skyscraper at dawn, had the potential to be depressing. Instead, the scene plays out as simply…natural. It helps that the visuals of “Expiration” are excellent, especially some of the establishing shots of downtown Montreal. The entire movie looks to have been shot with digital video, maybe even a mini DV. The sharp video images are a bit startling at first, but the story itself is so human that nothing else will soon matter.

Most of all, Heffernan should thank his lucky stars that he’s blessed with such a stellar cast of unknowns. You could watch a hundred Indie films produced on little to moderate budget and never run across this kind of capable cast. Among the notables are Depass as the prostitute/mother and Yetide Badaki as her troubled daughter. Leading lady Janet Lane makes an intriguing mystery woman, and Heffernan plays the small-town boy with a personality approaching naïve innocence — and at the same time traditional sturdiness — just right.

Gavin Heffernan (director) / Gavin Heffernan (screenplay)
CAST: Janet Lane …. Rachel
Gavin Heffernan …. Sam
Erin Simkin …. Niki
Yetide Badaki …. Naomi
Denise Depass …. Julia
Laen Herschler …. Oliver