Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini


The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van
Starring:
Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings and Gwen Taylor


Rated: PG-13 for a brief unsettling image.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 4, 2015 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

A spry, capricious adaptation of playwright Alan Bennett's memoir starring the inimitable Dame Maggie Smith (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and who was featured in Bennett's 1989 play) rebounds complexity with effortless charisma. It could very well lead to another Oscar nod for the octogenarian like her Philomena colleague and also knighted friend, Judi Dench, in what resonates with socially salient, serrated expression.

It happens in The Lady in the Van that a homeless woman did reside in a van in Bennett's driveway for 15 years and the film interestingly enjoys using Bennett as a writer as well as the one in 1970 Camden, England when Mary Shepherd (a grand Smith) parked her van up and down the street.

Residents are antsy about letting her choose their area but a tight-lipped  Alan (an appealing Alex Jennings) is more understanding and gradually allows her to use his driveway for a few months. He's not really a nosy-Nellie, though he'll slowly learn something (from the missing and arbitrary) about Mary from smaller escapades that's pretty diverse besides connections to religion and music. There's quieter implications of arcane, if later telling details of how one can actually persevere from unanticipated shifts with adept location work used by helmer Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys, Center Stage).

How Bennett communicates from his interplay with Mary is infused a wry affection considering how it relates to his mother (Gwen Taylor) who has to relocate into an assisted living facility. So, Jennings relates more of a multi-faceted figure than the facile Mary. The filmmaking sensitively evinces a congenial, lived-in feel even if the finale doesn't have the cleanest aura when it comes to visual effects. But, the collaboration between Hytner and Bennett offers a consistent, credible cognizance throughout with cameos (from the likes of Jim Broadbent, Frances de la Tour, Roger Allam, and James Corden, to name a few who are linked to the playwright) that, along with the spot-on casting of Smith and Jennings, is an understated, choice, as well as interpretative cinematic bauble.

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The Lady in the Van        B+                     B+ 

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