Hot Take: A glib, ill-humored, unnecessary film that acts as critic porn thanks to the presence of Maggie Smith and it’s unintentional(?) Charlie Kaufman impersonation.
Let’s get this out of the way quickly: I wasn’t a fan of The Lady in the Van. Does Maggie Smith deliver a great performance? Sure. Does that forgive the awful, ill-natured humor at the expense of a homeless woman who lived in a van for 15 years? Not particularly.
The Lady in the Van isn’t a tale I particularly enjoyed. I couldn’t get past the fact that everyone seemed to be nonchalant about this woman living in a van in the Camden Town community in London. The apathy the group portrays toward Miss Shepherd (Smith) with their inability to care enough to even be upset about her living on their streets or moved enough to help her in some way isn’t funny although the filmmaker’s try their damnedest to convince you it is. Oh! For the record, the bathroom habits of a homeless person aren’t exactly humorous either.
Sadly enough, The Lady in the Van isn’t really about The Lady in the Van as writer Alan Bennett makes the true story of a homeless woman living in a van in his driveway for 15 years about him. Bennett (played by Alex Jennings) weaves a convoluted self-centered film around the tale of Miss Shepherd which is told anecdotally between long stretches of self-righteous gobbledygook. The film is glib enough to even poke fun at Bennett’s self-centered nature as the members of his community seem to be more wrapped up in his creative choices in his plays than a delusional vagabond squatting on their streets.
The only saving grace in the film is Smith’s performance. But that’s not good enough to overlook the flaws and downright annoyances of the movie. Maybe it works better as a book or a stage play but the film version of The Lady in the Van parked in the tow away zone.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Maggie Smith
Smith wasn’t the only acclaimed performer to turn in a performance much better than the film contained within to only have critics overreact to the movie as a whole. Her performance is on par with Lily Tomlin’s in Grandma which was also pretty spectacular despite the film being a bore.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Bennett’s Adaptation to the Big Screen
The best scenes were those Bennett could not have been present for and were likely fabrications based on what he think occurred when he wasn’t looking. Also, the film too often felt like a play and was rarely more than mildly amusing.
- Fecal Humor
Bennett must have been particularly annoyed with the problem human nature creates when a homeless person has to go to the bathroom because it was a focal point of some rather cruel and insensitive humor. It also was joked about more than any other topic in the film other than Miss Shepherd’s smell.