Monday, November 30, 2015
The Lady in the Van
Maggie Smith carries herself like a countess in this “mostly true story” about a homeless woman in London, while hinting at a deep well of remorse and shards of panic beneath her grand froideur. In a kind of literary bait and switch, however, The Lady in the Van isn't really about the supercilious Miss Shepherd (Smith), but the fastidious, somewhat timid, and reclusive playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), the author of this screenplay, in whose driveway Miss Shepherd parked her van for more than 15 years.
Observing his initially unwelcome neighbor through his picture window, or addressing her in formal, borderline adversarial exchanges, which are usually confined to pragmatic questions like whether he will let her use his bathroom, Bennett learns only a handful of facts about Miss Shepherd. The film shows or tells its audience those nuggets repeatedly as Bennett muses in self-consciously “literary” prose about what she teaches him about life or whether he should turn her story into a book or a play. Meanwhile, its real subject, Bennett himself, neither says nor does anything particularly interesting.
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