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The VanThe Van

(Ireland/United Kingdom, 1996, 100 minutes, color, 35mm)

Directed by Stephen Frears

Script and novel by Roddy Doyle

Colm Meaney . . . . . . . . . . Larry
Donal O'Kelly . . . . . . . . . . Brendan "Bimbo" Reeves
Ger Ryan . . . . . . . . . .Maggie Reeves
Caroline Rothwell . . . . . . . . . . Mary

The following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

Stephen Frears is a writer's director. Screenplays for his films are literate, talky things, filled with affection for the human voice, whether the voice is that of saint or scoundrel. Beginning with Gumshoe (1971), and running through the rest, including My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Prick Up Your Ears (1987), The Grifters (1990), or High Fidelity (2000), is the sumptuous, sublime sound of people talking. The air of his films is filled with the chattering sound of life, with windy schemes and shaggy dog stories and elaborate lies. At first glance, his work seems the antithesis of the formulaic action film. But pay attention -- there's more real action in any Frears film than in a brace of hyper-thyroid exploding asteroid movies.

Frears' movies are about conspiracies. Occasionally, as in Accidental Hero (1992), they're epic in scope, and sometimes, as in The Grifters, they have criminal intentions. But some of Frears' best films are about small, inconsequential conspiracies, plots to commit joy as often as mayhem. Yet, the emotional investment of the characters in these tiny little intrigues is as high as in a plot to rib the Bank of England. Frears' is a world where the carefully orchestrated opening of a laundromat inspires tensions like grand opera. In films like The Van, it seems that the lower the stakes, the deeper is the emotional investment of the parties involved.

The VanWe're in Dublin's Barrytown, and an unnoticed soul named Bimbo (Donal O'Kelly), is facing what is delicately called his "redundancy notice" from his job in a bakery. He talks his chum Larry (Colm Meaney), who is rather comfortable in a condition of serial unemployment, into being a partner in a fish and chips van. The two working-class heroes-to-be spin a dream out of a junkyard truck and a good parking spot, stoking up hungry pub denizens gathered to watch Ireland's World Cup fortunes. Challenges spring up. They are not the millennial catastrophes that confront Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the little agonies that real people face. Middle age, unemployment, friendship gone sour under pressure... Frears' canvas here is a small one, his art one of fine lines and the pastel hues of everyday sadnesses and exaltations.

The world Bimbo and Larry live in is author Roddy Doyle's Dublin, as richly textured an urban setting as anything the other side of Bill Kennedy's Albany. Doyle's Barrytown trilogy includes The Commitments, filmed in 1991, Frears' own The Snapper, released in 1993, and now, The Van. (The marvelous Meaney has appeared all three films.) Much of The Van was shot on location Kilbarrack, north Dublin, and the voice of Dublin shouts and murmurs all through this film. Most of Bimbo and Larry's families and friends are in the same threadbare state of economics they are in, but reduced circumstances don't mean weakened souls; Roddy Doyle's Dubliners are hearty, passionate, expressive troupers in a songstory of ordinary lives made extraordinary by the littlest things.

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

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