The Lady in the Van – LFF Review

The Lady in the Van

Alan Bennett brings his award winning play to the big screen. The play and film in question are a comedy drama about Alan Bennett himself (Alex Jennings) and the van-dwelling lady (Maggie Smith) who took up residence on his driveway in the 1970s and stayed for over a decade. Despite what the title might suggest, and with this being a Bennett production, Alan Bennett is very much the lead character. Alan provides narration not just as a voiceover but as the character onscreen talking to a secondary version of himself. If you’re going to put yourself in your film why not put yourself in their twice? As such your enjoyment of The Lady in the Van is very much limited to how much you enjoy Alan Bennett, or at least Jennings’ interpretation of him.

You will also need a large tolerance for Maggie Smith playing a cantankerous old woman as she features almost as heavily as the faux Bennett. Thankfully I have a high Bennett threshold and find Smith to be the only bearable element of Downton Abbey so could cope with everything that The Lady in the Van had to offer. I’m not suggesting the film is an ordeal but know that some people cannot tolerate certain representations.

The plot is relatively simple. When Alan moves into a house in Camden he is soon introduced to Miss Shepherd, an elderly lady who lives in a van which she moves around outside each residence as the mood takes her. Seeking to ease his conscious more than anything else Alan reluctantly allows her to park her van on his driveway. Initially this is supposed to be a short term solution but neither ever see fit to change the arrangement. As he provides a modicum of care this this stranger he struggles with his mother’s declining health as she slowly loses her faculties back in Alan’s hometown. Much as Alan does not want to equate the two women he frequently finds them occupying the same brain space.

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Bennett has written this story numerous times before, Smith has played the same character previously both on stage and on the radio, and director Nicholas Hytner worked with them both on the theatre production. Alex Jennings is the only new element in this project and he tackles the role of Alan by capturing his essence without coming across as a mere imitation. Smith is clearly very comfortable in the role, and in her van, and takes great relish in delivering endless witty lines whilst wearing a night dress and surrounded by filth, all with a degree of pathos thrown in. Meanwhile Bennett and Hytner have successfully managed to expand the existing material to create a film that does not feel like a play. Often play adaptations could easily be imagined on stage but The Lady in the Van feels distinctly cinematic, not least because so much of it takes place outside rather than in a single room.

The Lady in the Van is a fun little oddity exploring loneliness, community, and codependency. Bennett writes himself with a witty self deprecation and Maggie Smith brings the kind of energy her fans have come to expect. If either Bennett or Smith are outside your comfort zone then steer clear otherwise you’re going to enjoy this one.

My Old Lady – LFF Review

My Old Lady

New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) has inherited a large Parisian apartment from his estranged, and now deceased, father. Having driven his life into the ground this windfall comes at a time where a large lump sum are all that stands between Mathias and ruin. Sadly a bizarre French law means that the apartment’s former owner and current tenant Mathilde (Maggie Smith) has the right to live in Mathias’ new property until she dies. On top of this the bankrupt American must pay her a monthly maintenance or forfeit the entire abode. With nowhere else to go Mathias rents a room in his own apartment and lives with Mathilde and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) while he judges how long Mathilde has left to live and whether he can possibly sell the place while it remains tied up in the strange Parisian legal bind.

Hilarity ensues.

For the most part My Old Lady features just this cast of three and rarely strays too far from the all important apartment. The plot is driven by plenty of dialogue, the acting is delivered with a little too much vigour, and the machinations of the story get a little contrived towards the end. All of this should scream one thing to you; the theatre. Indeed with its modest headcount, singular setting, and final act revelations My Old Lady does very little to disguise the fact that it started life on the stage in a play by the film’s director Israel Horovitz. When a play is adapted well it can make for great cinematic fare equally as lauded as its original incarnation. When done badly a big screen adaptation can feel stale and unconvincing; the melodrama that was captivating on stage not translating so well on-screen.

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For the most part Horovitz does not seem to have done much to make My Old Lady justify a conversion to film. There is nothing contained within the adaptation that could not have been performed on stage any less easily and the style of direction is one without flair or excitement. It is hard to see what filming his play has added to its story and why he felt the need to do so.

The film, and presumably the play, is perfectly pleasant. Not quite as many laughs as I had been led to expect but a funny and charming story is there to be enjoyed. Maggie Smith gives her trademark performance as a snippy but loveable aging matriarch and is as enjoyable to watch as always. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a tender edge to her role as the indignant daughter and Kevin Kline slightly over-eggs his performance as the boorish American disrupting the lives of incredibly English Parisians. The experience of watching My Old Lady is one of bemusement and mild unrest. Nothing too exciting happens, a few laughs are had, and then it ends without ever fully convincing.

Not a bad film but not spectacular either. My Old Lady is a film to be watched on a rainy weekend afternoon with a blanket keeping you warm.

My Old Lady has a UK release date of 21st November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Review

In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel eight British pensioners are tempted away from their native country with the promise of a free flight to India and the chance to live out their retirements in a luxury hotel. On arrival they find the hotel is in disrepair and run by a young man called Sonny (Dev Patel). Over time the group grow to either love or loathe their new home, Sonny battles to keep his vision of an extraordinary retirement home afloat and each senior citizen goes on their own unique journey.

With such a large cast of British acting royalty the film is at risk of feeling fragmented as at least seven separate stories are told, but somehow it works. The various characters are each seeking something different; a lost love, sex, life after the loss of a partner, a new hip, a rich husband or to save their marriage. What links them together, and highlights their differences, is India itself. The country is photographed beautifully and the film is filled with vibrant colours, a myriad of sounds, and various exotic smells. Perhaps the smells were only in my mind. The characters learn to cope with their new surroundings with varying degrees of success, some thriving amongst the new experiences and others shying away from the terrifying world outside the hotel.

The various story threads bring with them a nice mix of humour, drama and even a little romance. The trailer may have sold the film as a slightly faster paced comedy than it is, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel still has plenty of laughs spread across its running time. What the film also offers, that perhaps the trailer does not showcase enough, is plenty of heartfelt moments and plots that go a little deeper than most light comedies allow. It doesn’t hurt that every role is filled by a beloved British face, from Judi Dench to Maggie Smith, from Bill Nighy to Tom Wilkinson, and from Penelope Wilton to Celia Imrie. With talent like this given the rare opportunity to strut their stuff in leading roles the two-hour running time flies by and at the end I wanted to check into the Marigold Hotel and stay a little while longer.

With an older cast and a gentler approach to comedy than is normally seen on the big screen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not going to excite everyone. I overheard a fellow critic at my screening suggesting that perhaps it would be preferred by an older audience, but speaking as a 23-year-old I recommend this film as proof that you don’t have to be the same age as the cast to find this film funny.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a gentle comedy with a lot of heart. The visuals were stunning and cast of British legends were wonderful to watch in their element. It was enough to make me want to whisk Judi Dench off to India and retire in a dilapidated hotel.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on general release on 24th February 2012.

Are You Old Enough for Racism?

Last night I was invited along to a screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film with a trailer so filled with British ‘National Treasures’ that I nearly fell over myself with excitement. As someone who only falls over themselves once a week, this was no mean feat. I can’t tell you whether I liked the film or not, but I can bore you with something interesting* I noticed over at the BBFC. Just try to stop me.

The BBFC has rated The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as 12A and in their consumer advice say that the film “contains strong language, moderate sex references and racist remarks.” I was surprised to see racist remarks highlighted as a reason parents may not want their children to see a film, though I’m not sure why as racism is of course vile and reprehensible. I’m not afraid to take a widely supported and uncontroversial stand.

Digging deeper, as only someone with too much time on their hands does, I found over at the Parents BBFC website guidelines for what sort of language the BBFC will allow at 12A:

Discriminatory language may be present but will not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive use of discriminatory language (for example homophobic or racist terms) is unlikely to be acceptable at ‘12’ or ‘12A’ unless it is clearly condemned.

So there you have it, you can only hear racist slurs which are not clearly condemned when you are at least 15 years old. I suppose the aim is to not expose the nation’s children to endless streams of fully endorsed racism until they are old enough to feel sufficiently outraged. Makes sense to me.

Interesting* also to note that American History X, a film about neo-Nazis and filled with racism so strong it borders on the unwatchable, has no mention of racism in its consumer advice from the BBFC. Hmm.

There you have it, a series of facts strung together into something almost resembling a coherent dialogue. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and wrestle with the Oscar Nomination live-stream again.

*Debatable

2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading