The Van

UK - 1996

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

"The Van" is the last installment of the Irish Barrytown chronicles that started with "The Commitments" and continued with "The Snapper". It's the weakest of the three, but that's like saying the Krups diamond is smaller than the Hope diamond. Once again, cherub-faced Colm Meany is along as Larry, in this funny, bittersweet story about mixing friendship and business.

We pick up the story with Larry finding his best friend, Bimbo weeping at the local pub. Bimbo's just been made redundant, Brit-speak for laid-off. This leaves him with a lump-sum settlement but no chance at future employment. He turns into an emotional rag doll, so Larry takes him under his wing, showing him the ropes of being unemployed, things like golfing, rain or shine, and how to make an informed decision when choosing which game show to watch. Although Larry's long ago settled into his househusband role, Bimbo chafes at it. He hits on the idea of a fish and chips van with Larry as his partner. From distinctly unpromising beginnings, both families pitch in, and before you can say haddock, Larry and Bimbo are living if not the good, at least the better life, feeding the masses and outrunning the health inspector.

Armed with a ferocious good nature, Larry gets away with occasionally acting as though he were sole proprietor. It takes Bimbo's wife to stir things up. And this is the where the film goes wrong. Credit screenwriter Roddy Doyle with knowing that the story needed a conflict to keep going, but he dropped the ball with this setup. When Bimbo's wife announces that she doesn't like Larry and Larry doesn't like her, it's a bombshell from left field. Maybe it worked better in his novel. Still, Doyle and director Stephen Frears, of "The Grifters" fame, have an unfailing knack for capturing the quirky rhythms of Larry's adventures.

And watching Meany go from complacent drone to overbearing oaf is a treat. Whether receiving commeupance for thinking potato chips are a proper dinner for his granddaughter, or delving into the mysteries of a deep-fried cod, his malleable face is a three-volume novel of bemusement. Despite its weak points, "The Van," did more than make me crave french fries, it made me hope for another installment of Meany in Barrytown.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 6/18/97

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