Some things in life exist for one reason and one reason only and that’s to be annoying: elevator music, commercials for injury lawyers, meter maids. Ah, parking enforcers. They always seem to be hovering around the corner, waiting like vultures to write a ticket within 30 seconds of your meter running out. They’re the subject of Trent Carlson’s delightful Canadian mocumentary The Delicate Art of Parking.
While the title is misleading in that it doesn’t reveal the secrets to finding an elusive parking space in midday downtown traffic, The Delicate Art of Parking is unique nonetheless. Lonny (Dov Tiefenbach) is an aspiring documentary filmmaker whose accumulated a glove box worth of parking tickets over the years. So who better to target for his next project than his arch enemies, the parking enforcers who roam the streets acting like police officers but yielding the power of janitors, as he likes to put it. Their initial research found lots of angry people who had very little respect for the profession and their cause. After watching Grant (Fred Ewaniuk) get into a violent confrontation with a disgruntled recipient of a ticket, Lonny and his crew fall onto the story of a parking attendant put into a coma and the ensuing fallout.
The Delicate Art of Parking is held together because of its strong characters. They’re funny, they’re quirky and, most of all, they’re realistic. They all believe in what they say and do, sharing a common pride even if professions and personalities didn’t mix. Believability is key to a mocumentary because it’s trying to create a sense of reality that although fictional, could exist in the real world outside the film.
In many ways, there’s two movies going on here. There’s the mocumentary about the life of parking attendants, which is the one on the surface. And even though the ‘filmmakers’ make themselves a part of the narrative within the mocumentary, there’s still a movie within a movie that’s very much aware of itself.
The mocumentary material is good stuff. It’s funny, has great characters, it’s simple but it’s also very smart. A story emerges within the film that is a little over the top, but it works to extend their shelf life a little longer than it might have otherwise with just a collection of character sketches.
Where The Delicate Art of Parking stalls is when it becomes self referential. This is when the lives of the filmmakers takes over their own movie and distracts from the meter maids. The characters are obnoxious and we’ve seen the likes of them before. While filmmakers becoming faces in their documentaries is nothing new and often adds to the personal nature of their quest in searching for answers, it’s ultimately a stylistic choice. I think that a more low-key presence for Lonny and his partners would have been better. They’re not what the film is about, even the one they are making, yet there are good stretches of screen time dedicated to the process of making the movie such as soap opera dramatics between participants and problems in making their film. These parts disrupt the flow of quirkiness that Grant and his coworkers have created.
Buried slightly below the surface of Carlson’s tribute to the people who write us tickets for parking a little too far from the curb or a little too close to a bus stop is some commentary on union politics and the passion some people have for their jobs. It’s in this small bit of commentary that the film drew me in as I, and I’m guessing others who have worked in a union, could relate to many of the personalities and attitudes shown. The Delicate Art of Parking is the type of film that will likely draw universal appeal in this sense. But it’s also very funny, a truly universal feeling.
The Delicate Art of Parking Gallery