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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Messages about the importance of friendship, compassion, the knowledge that everyone has an inner life (and a back story that's not always apparent to others), and the idea that some people want to help others in the abstract but just aren't up for it in the day to day.
Positive Role Models
Alan lets Mary park in his driveway and use his lavatory when so many others would rather she went away. The two keep an eye on each other and have an untraditional friendship. Mary clearly has a fascinating back story, but no one seems to know the "real" her.
Violence & Scariness
Two potentially disturbing scenes: As the film opens, a bicyclist crashes into a van and falls down dead with a bloody head wound (this scene is repeated later in the film); later, a dead character is shown peacefully "asleep."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Alan subtly flirts with younger men, some of whom "visit" at night, but no sex or even kissing is shown.
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A couple of uses of "f--king" and a few British curses like "bloody," "bleeding," "sodding," and "sod off."
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Products & Purchases
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults toast at a dinner/get together.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Lady in the Van is an adaptation of English playwright/author/actor Alan Bennett's diary, memoir, and play about his unusual friendship with Mary Shepherd, an elderly homeless woman who convinced him to let her park her ramshackle van in his London driveway ... for 15 years. Directed by Bennett's friend and longtime artistic collaborator, Nicholas Hytner, and starring Maggie Smith (who also played Mary in the play and TV versions of the story), the movie is an appealing tale of a unique inter-generational friendship. There are a couple of brief shots of a dead body (one bloody, one peaceful) and some subtle allusions to Alan's amorous late-night visits from younger men (though not even kissing is shown), as well as an uncharacteristic utterance of the expletive "f--king." Otherwise, this is a character study and relationship drama about how sometimes the unlikeliest people can change your life. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Smith is a force of nature in her third professional outing as Mary Shepherd, the titular transient woman who literally parked herself in playwright Alan Bennett's life. In a role that you'd swear was written for her -- were it not for the fact that Shepherd did, in fact, exist -- Smith is gloriously curmudgeonly as "Mary," a woman too proud to see herself as homeless (her old van, of course, is her home). When a passerby calls her a "sodding beggar," she yells back that she's "self employed" and Alan is her "neighbor." Smith and Jennings' chemistry is fabulous as they banter and bicker. But she's at her best when she's being perfectly blunt. She isn't a romanticized, kind-hearted homeless woman who's willing to share her sage wisdom about a reversal of fortune; Mary is more likely to bark at someone than to thank them. So when she finally asks Alan to give her his hand, it's a moment of exquisite tenderness and connection between two individuals co-existing on the same property.
As Alan, Jennings plays two roles -- the Alan who lives and the Alan who writes. They dress differently and have distinct personalities, and Jennings is fabulous as both. Fellow British stage and screen veterans Frances de la Tour and Roger Allam appear as Alan's neighbors, who tolerate and occasionally look in on Mary -- but this film is really about Mary and Alan, who quietly observes her life, usually in contrast to that of his own aging mother, who lives in another part of England where he can't just walk out the door and see her. Smith and Jennings are a wonderful match, and The Lady in the Van is a quietly powerful testament to how sometimes it's the unlikeliest of people who make a huge impact on your life.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.