If I liked milk, I’d say Expiration Date is as frothy, refreshing and satisfying as a tall, cool glass of the white stuff. As it is, I’ll just say that it is frothy, but also refreshing and satisfying, and leave the cow juice comparisons out of it.
At one of its Vancouver International Film Festival screenings, co-writer and director Rick Stevenson called it a black comedy, “which means it’s filled with totally inappropriate moments for laughs.”
While it is a dark comedy, it’s also often as sweet as, er, chocolate milk, which makes the humour more grey than pitch black. Its tone is slightly uneven, veering from that black comedy, to pathos, to slightly syrupy, and back again, but it’s an enjoyable comedy with a gentle – though not very subtle – message about living life to its fullest.
Expiration Date follows Charles Silvercloud III (Robert A. Guthrie) as he prepares for his imminent death. His grandfather and father were both killed by milk trucks on their 25th birthdays – two of the many scenes that inspired inappropriate laughter. Charlie’s 25th birthday is a week away, milk omens are everywhere, and he’s got funeral arrangements to make.
Mom Lucille (Dee Wallace Stone) is resigned to her son’s fate but despondent that unlike his father and grandfather, he’s not leaving a son to carry on the family curse … I mean, name.
When he meets kooky Bessie (Sacha Knopf), who’s making funeral preparations for her mother, Charlie is wary of getting into a relationship with so little time left. But he finds Bessie has her own secrets, and they bond despite impending death. While it’s a bit of a tired scenario – off-the-wall girl brings life to staid boy – the leads are charming and the milk curse premise is unique enough to sustain interest when the familiarity breeds boredom.
Supporting characters add some richness to the comedy, with Ben Ratner as Charlie’s boss, who’s looking for a woman who knows the lyrics to every Jimi Hendrix song, David Keith as an intense soldier wannabe, Brandon Whitehead as a caffeine addict, and, the biggest scene stealer of all, Roadkill the narcoleptic dog. For even more bonus comedy, Richard Sanders – Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati – pops up as a cemetery worker.
Just as another of my festival favourites, Everything’s Gone Green, was a love letter to Vancouver, Expiration Date is a love letter to neighbouring Seattle. The coffee culture, the funky neighbourhoods, even some of the music all shine in the background.
The movie is bookended with scenes of a Native teenager waiting for a bus to let him escape life on the reservation, when an old man accosts him and gets him interested in the story of the Silvercloud curse. Nakotah Larance, who plays the young man, is a world championship hoop dancer, and Stevenson said a documentary about him will appear on the Expiration Date DVD, due to be released in March.
The writer and director mentioned that the Native American theme didn’t appear until the last draft of the script, and that he chose it when he discovered his independent funding was in place and he had the freedom to cast whoever he wanted. “Out of the specific comes the universal. All of us have a curse that keeps us from living life to its fullest.”
But beyond that, he joked, “I felt someone needed to expose the evils of milk. I’m a socially conscious filmmaker.”