Noah Arkwright (Howitt) is a British film director with a drink and drug problem. As he prepares to go into rehab, the film flashes back and forth through the formative moments of his adult life, including his diagnosis of cancer and his marriage to cellist Clare Mattheson (Burrows).
Since his directing debut Sliding Doors, actor Peter Howitt has stayed mostly behind the camera, taking bit-parts in his own projects (blink and you’ll miss him in Johnny English and Laws Of Attraction). With Dangerous Parking he steps up to centre stage, boldly taking the lead role in this tricksy adaptation of Stuart Browne’s loosely autobiographical novel.
The drama starts as it means to go on, with Noah (Howitt) staggering around drunk, eyeing up women and blurting out insults. Noah has an amusing turn of phrase and the kind of wild streak that leads him to wake up vomiting in a stranger’s bed with no memory of the night before. So far, so funny, but the film takes a more serious turn when Noah is frogmarched to Alcoholics Anonymous and, more dramatically, the doctor.
Howitt’s biggest challenge is with tone: Dangerous Parking wobbles unevenly between light and dark. The mood is kept jaunty, so there’s rarely time to pause for thought about Noah’s inner struggles. Also problematic is the structure; flashing back and forwards through Noah’s life may reflect his state of mind, but it drains numerous scenes of tension by revealing their conclusion in advance. It’s a bit wearing trying to keep up, and there’s little chance for reflection when you’re trying to mentally assemble the fragments of Noah’s life into a coherent timeline.
There are moments of profundity, most notably during Noah’s time in rehab when his dead mother appears to him. Ideas about fate, love, salvation and regret all surface regularly, giving fleeting insight into Noah’s concerns. Supporting performances are mostly enjoyable: Saffron Burrows is suitably luminous (although she struggles with some soapy dialogue) as Noah’s wife Clare, Sean Pertwee is a solid best friend, and Tom Conti shows everyone up with his turn as Noah’s toff doctor.
Not all the comedy works, however: the scene that explains the title – in which a stoned Noah is arrested and charged with “dangerous parking” - is too self-conscious to be any more than smirk-worthy. This lacks the confidence and coherence of the comparable Trainspotting, even if it is a generally enjoyable ride.
A variable tone and a flashback-heavy structure make this drama as confused as its protagonist, but its still a fleetingly funny and ultimately affecting watch.