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The Lady in the Van 

Wednesday, Jan 20 2016
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Based on Alan Bennett's memoir of the same name, Nicholas Hynter's The Lady in the Van is both a charming British comedy and a remarkably insightful examination of what it means to be a nonfiction writer. The eponymous occupant is Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a homeless woman who parks her van for 15 years in the driveway of a reclusive writer, Alan (Alex Jennings). That Smith nails the role would be a given even if she hadn't already played it on the West End in 1999. While the mystery of her backstory and how she wound up living in a van is interesting enough as it is unravels, far more compelling is the structure of Alan's interior monologue, which is presented as an external dialogue. Many scenes feature two Alans, as the Alan the Writer lightly bickers with Alan the Person Who Has to Live in the World about the ethics of being a memoirist, how much to fictionalize, and whether these Alans' relationship with Miss Shepherd is a roundabout way of working through Alans' issues with Alans' mother. But it's also a very funny comedy, and very English;The Lady in the Van comments on its native culture in a way that American comedies seldom do, which says a lot about both cultures.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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