Family Movie Night
By Karyn Bowman
Some actors make it hard for you not to watch. Their ability to channels others and tell incredible stories are amazing feats. Some are so good, they could read the phone book and make it interesting.
That is how I feel about the British actress Maggie Smith. Some of you know here are the indomitable Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter Movies. Here she is delightfully in charge at all times but there is always a hint of whimsy in her eyes, as if she is just waiting to do a little mischief. A rule player until the time she gets to break the rules, Smith gave McGonagall all of the stiff upper lip and the twinkle of affection for her students.
Some might know her as the Dowager in Downton Abby. Putting all of her regal behavior into one character, we begin to understand the very rich when Smith asks just what is a week-end. She enjoys a good fight with her cousin over control of the hospital board while using the same skills to keep her mutinous housekeeper in check.
I remember her most as Cousin Charlotte from A Room With a View. She is the very proper English woman who is stuck in the times as well as trying to live in the more modern era. Her inability to deal with her young cousin’s sprightly ways is complicated by her need to not to be a total stick in the mud, especially if she is being a stick in the mud.
But what I truly appreciate about Smith is her ability to do and try just about anything in the acting world. We know her for the posh roles she plays but Smith can get down and dirty as well. I just watched The Lady in the Van which was a BBC production that has since come out on DVD.
The story is based on a true story of a playwright, Alex Jennings, who allows the neighborhood homeless woman to park her van in his driveway. At first she parks on the street in front of the homes of various neighbors. Some treat her kindly, others are more brusque with her. And she treats them all the same no matter who they are. She accept food as if it is her right to be given tasty treats. She uses the playwright’s bathroom as if it were her own.
Over the years, the two people develop as relationship, an affection of sorts, that aggravates Jennings because his mother is the same age but in a lesser degree of health. Why he seems to give more care to the homeless woman than to his own mother is a bit of a mystery.
Through it all Smith performs well. She takes a character who is unlikable and keeps her that way. There is no magical transformation to a nice person, no miraculous cure for her mental illness. The Lady in the Van remains an enigma despite all that we learn about her, she remains self-focused with moments of joy leaping out that surprise people, and keep them coming back with goodies and needful items.
This is a slice of life, a picture of a moment in time when a lonely man allowed a crazy person to take over his yard with her van and all of her garbage bags surrounding the vehicle. There are no chase scenes or explosions. But this movie is filled with dry English wit and warm moments.
Maybe younger kids should not watch it but it is acceptable for teens who can deal with the slow moments or the humorous ones.
Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.