Jan 29

“The Lady in the Van”: Homeless But Rooted

Finally, a “mostly true story” that’s actually pretty true: The Lady in the VanTrue because it’s written by the man, gay playwright Alan Bennett, who experienced the movie’s plot: A homeless woman, Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), parked her van in his driveway and didn’t leave for years. Bennett adapted the screenplay from his own memoir and play (that also starred Smith).

Actor Alex Jennings plays Bennett as two different men: “One of them participates in the action while the other observes and sardonically comments on it” (Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter).

The Plot and Characterizations of The Lady in the Van

Guy Lodge, Variety:

When Bennett moves into Gloucester Crescent, a close-knit, middle-class enclave of London arts folk, in 1970, Shepherd is already antagonizing the residents, testing their liberal generosity with blunt demands and misanthropic rants. Classical music, in particular, aggravates her, with children practicing instruments getting the full brunt of her ire; any questions about her presence or plans for moving on are met with statements of daft Catholic conviction about her prescribed path…

Stephen Holden, New York Times:

Mary, who dresses in castoff clothing, is unkempt and seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is pungently odoriferous. Her bodily fluids are kept in plastic bags that too often end up on the driveway, and Mr. Bennett is forever cleaning up after her, both outside and inside the house. At vulnerable moments, disturbed by sounds outside the van, she cowers like a frightened animal under her bedclothes in semidarkness. In the scariest scene, local ruffians bang on the windows and rock the vehicle back and forth.

Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times:

A hilarious supporting cast shines as neighborhood gossips and do-gooders, especially Frances de la Tour as Bennett’s empathetic ally and Roger Allam as an exasperated bystander. Visually the movie is mostly unremarkable, though its set — Bennett’s real home in London’s quaint Gloucester Crescent locale, lends a warmth and realism to the story…

Ella Taylor, NPR: “Bit by bit, flashbacks clear up the mystery of why a woman so down on her luck would have a posh accent, speak fluent French, perk up at a few bars of Beethoven, and go down on her knees early and often to seek atonement for a crime she may or may not have committed.”

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: “The character’s backstory is ultimately revealed in an encounter between Bennett and her older brother that movingly illustrates how anyone’s life can turn on a dime if afflicted with mental illness.”

The Trailer for The Lady in the Van

Ella Taylor, NPR: “Divided against himself and forever unsure of his own motives, Bennett Squared isn’t just telling the story of his encounter with one of England’s dispossessed. He’s conducting an inquiry into the roots of kindness, where he finds indolence, passivity, self-interest — and a genuine desire to help and heal that he sees in the very doctors, social workers and ambulance drivers routinely fingered in movies as the enemy.”

Jan 31

“Quartet”: A Film About Aging With Hope

QUARTET is a wickedly comic film about redefining old age and growing old with hope; demonstrating how art illuminates life and the human spirit remains undimmed even as the brightest stars start to fade.” BBC

A current film about aging that could be used for “movie therapy” is the enjoyable Quartet. The entire setting is Britain’s Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. And not just any musicians—very accomplished ones.

Upon learning this up front while watching the movie, I had to wonder…what would it be like to be in a similar facility for aging therapists? Would such a thing even be desirable? How might I feel about that? I hear you asking how you might feel about that. Geez, just tell me! How would I feel about that?!?

Well, anyway…it’s based on a stage play by Ronald Harwood. Forthwith, the basics of Quartet per Roger Ebert:

The central drama involves the retired singer Reggie Paget (Tom Courtenay, who starred in “The Dresser” and “Doctor Zhivago” all those years ago, and even before that the powerful 1962 drama “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”). Settled and content, he is seeking a comfy senility in Beecham House, he says. Then another retired legend arrives. This is Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). We learn that she cheated on Reggie within hours of their marriage, and although he’s always been in love with her, he has never forgiven her.

The trailer:

Selected Reviews

Kyle Smith, New York Post: “‘Quartet’ isn’t a penetrating inquiry into aging. Who wants that? We all know the facts, so let’s not begrudge some fancy.”

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “Everyone onscreen is experienced enough to realize that we create our own fates, regardless of the directions in which we are pushed.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “In their most poignant exchange, Ms. Smith asks ‘Why did we have to get old?’ and Mr. Courtenay says, ‘That’s what people do.’ But few do it with such grace and dignity, in a film with so much affection, tenderness and charm.”

May 22

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: Challenges of Retirement

In the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the Elderly and Beautiful), seven British retirees—one couple and five singles—are looking for something different than what they can find in their own environment and fall for the allure of falsely advertised accomodations in India. It turns out that the young man running the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), does have a sincere dream to rehab it into a classier place—it just isn’t anywhere near there yet. In the meantime, his idea is to find seniors from other countries who might desire a less expensive “outsourcing” of their retirement.

Probably the best part of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the excellent ensemble cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and more. But there are also notable moments of charm, wit, and romance as each individual struggles to move forward in his or her life despite serious obstacles, e.g., loss of a spouse, serious health and/or financial problems, etc..

Mary Pols, Time: “…a charming celebration of aging. There are brutal truths about the declining years in Best Exotic, from loneliness to financial woes that can’t be solved by getting a new job, but they are amply padded with comedy and cheery messages about acceptance; this is no bitter pill to swallow.”

The trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

Best line, said repeatedly and with attempted cheer by Sonny: “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not the end.”

Some Pertinent Reading

Retirement expert Nancy K. Schlossberg was asked in an interview, What do we need most for a happy retirement? She stated:

We need to matter. It is important for people to believe that they count in others’ lives. The loss of the challenge of the work itself, the relationship with colleagues, the connection to an environment, an office to go to, and the daily routines can leave people wondering whether they matter anymore. We all need to figure out ways to bolster our own sense that we count.

Her book Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose (2009) offers helpful tips for those seeking to make retirement a more fulfilling experience.

Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, Director, Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, The George Washington University: “Concepts like the Psychological Portfolio, reflecting a depth of understanding and wisdom, take you on a positive journey in relation to personal identity, purpose, and relationships. This book is not about making the best of, but creating the best in retirement.”