The strangest thing occurred to me when I sat down in the theater and gazed around the crowd. I’m with an older demographic. The same demographic that joined me for “London Has Fallen”. I don’t know what that says about this movie or any type of similarities those two movies share. It certainly seemed odd to me.
But perhaps that suites the movie. “Lady in the Van” is a bit odd but in a good way. It’s an odd story about a lady who lives in her van (played by the always capable Maggie Smith). She is crabby and dirty (although she claims to be clean). She cons her way into a neighborhood of” liberal values”, parking in front of a new house until she finds something she doesn’t like. She may live in a dirty old van but she does have standards. She manages to guilt her way into keeping her van in the parking lot of a playwright named Alan Bennett.
The playwright is played by Alex Jennings. He finds his personality split between the part of him that socializes and the part of him that observes people and writes it. This is represented with Jennings playing both characters while appearing on screen talking to himself.
The both of them strike up a curious, but fun relationship . You can tell the playwright is frustrated sometimes by the presence of the Miss Sheppard but at the same time he really cares about her.
Between this relationship is where the movie shines. The actors play off one another brilliantly. The comedy isn’t normally from any sight gags but it’s from the character interaction and wicked sharp dialogue written from screenwriter Alan Bennett himself (adapting his own memoir). The more you get to know the characters the funnier the movie becomes. Its wisely doesn’t try to hit the ground running right out the gate with humor. It takes it time to build.
I would stop short at calling this movie a comedy though. I certainly think the movie is funny but it’s more quirky than just comedy. And, it mixes in a good dose of drama as. The drama is well written into the movie but it never takes away from the film’s lighthearted nature. The drama is a bit clichéd, we sort of know where it’s going from the beginning of the movie. It’s the cranky older person that has a troubled past type of story that we’ve seen ever since Scrooge was visited by the ghost of Christmas past. But it works here as well because her past is so mysterious. She tells so many stories about her past and we ‘re not sure which one is real or not (mostly because of her con artist nature which is oddly delightful).
Miss Shepherd is played by Maggie Smith. If you have no other interest in this movie, see this purely for Smith’s performance. She has had many great performances throughout her career (for me though she will always be Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter saga) and this adds just one more into that list. She is terrific in this movie; both funny and heartwarming, frustrating and once again quirky. Miss Shepherd is such a wonderful and memorable character.
The movie towards the end gets very meta and self aware. I won’t say how (in case you’re like me who don’t live in a major city and takes a while for a movie like this to reach a theater near you) but It’s kind of out of place with the rest of the movie. You could argue this movie is have a meta attitude throughout the movie (with the playwright split personality saying when the movie is being factorial and when it isn’t) but I think it’s too sparse to be consider a running theme. At first I liked it until it sunk in more. For “The Lady in the Van” it’s a little too over the type of ending for a movie that is pretty grounded in reality.
Despite this The Lady in the Van is a wonderfully charming movie. I had a fun time watching the film. It’s not perfect but the performers (especially Maggie Smith) are. If a theater near you is showing it its worth checking out. Or you could just wait until April 19th when the Blu-Ray comes out as well.