The Lady in the Van Review: Whimsical Cynicism

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On a technical level, there’s nothing special about The Lady in the Van. Based on the play of the same title, the film is as direct and to-the-point in its presentation as works in the medium that bore it. That makes it hard to justify as a film. But the script is still a winning one, and Maggie Smith is undeniably electric, even if the story isn’t as married to the screen as it was to the stage.

The story is relatively simple. After a horrific accident leaves a man dead, Mary (Smith) goes on the run, living in her van to avoid the cops and selling pencils for money. She’s parked in a neighborhood in London that Alan (Alex Jennings) lives in. He’s a closeted writer cynical to the world yet guilt-ridden toward his ailing mother. Mary and Alan form a reluctant symbiotic bond that keeps each other going.

While I appreciate the script’s refreshing lack of sentimentality, there’s not a whole lot to latch onto. The prose Allan spouts out through voiceover or aloud is certainly entertaining, but also exhaustingly mopey. Smith has more to work with. This is a legend of the craft at the height of her comedic powers. It’s a delightful performance for a crotchety character, a unity that ends up being the film’s greatest strength. If only it had been in a film that dared to go beyond its roots. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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