Nicholas Hytner's The Lady in the Van is a pleasantly entertaining film that is both funny and tender, owing a large amount of its success to the brave and dimensioned lead performance by Maggie Smith. Based on true events, The Lady In the Van tells the story of a relationship that unfolded between Alan Bennett, a writer, and Miss Shepherd, a homeless woman of unknown origins who ended up parking her van in Bennett's London driveway, proceeding to live their for 15 years. Light and playful in tone, The Lady in the Van lets its incredible true story and impressive lead performance do most of the work, documenting the relationship between two unlikely individuals. Ms. Shepherd isn't the most likable of characters, being abrasive towards everyone around her, and the film deserves credit, along with Maggie Smith, for its ability to make the viewer emotionally attached to understanding and feeling for this character's troubled past. While Maggie Smith's central performance is without question the main attraction, The Lady in the Van works so well because of Alan's characterization, which I would argue is even stronger. A single man, Alan essentially lives a life of solitude as a writer, and I particularly found the comparisons this character makes between his own mother, who lives in a retirement home, and his relationship with Ms. Shepherd, who lives in his driveway, to be both fascinating and emotionally compelling. Early on, I didn't think that The Lady in the Van did a great job balancing its comedy and drama, but as Alan and Miss Shepherd's relationship progresses, the film manages to reach stronger moments of poignancy while still finding the humor in Miss Shepherds abrasive personality. My main complaint with The Lady in the Van is that it never quite manages to thematically explore societies judgmental tendencies with the less privileged, touching on it in direct ways but never diving beneath the surface, almost as if the filmmakers assumed the main relationship between Alan and Miss Shepherd would be enough. One thing that did surprise me about The Lady in the Van is the amount of style and chances the filmmakes make, even having a few well-executed surrealistic moments that elevate the film when it become a little didactic at times. With a very strong central performance and a touching story, The Lady in the Van is compelling and tender, even though I couldn't help but wish the film would have gone a little further in deconstructing societies taboo with he less fortunate.
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