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The Van Concludes Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy
movie review by Gary Johnson

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for The Van

  [rating: 2½ of 4 stars]
Following The Commitments and The Snapper, director Stephen Frears' new movie, The Van, concludes Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy. However, the atmosphere is different this time around. Whereas both The Commitments and The Snapper gave us warm stories about working class men and women in Ireland, The Van opts for a darker portrait.

Donal O'Kelly and Colm Meaney in The Van.

Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.)

While The Commitments gave us an inspiring portrait of a rock'n'roll band's rise from obscurity and The Snapper gave us the funny and gentle story of a family coming together when an unmarried daughter announces she's pregnant, The Van gives us the story of a destructive friendship between two out-of-work Irish blokes. Their friendship survives everything, but just barely, and maybe we should see that as inspirational--the friendship endures. But The Van isn't so much about the value of friends as it is about despair--that the lead characters can only be best friends when day after day they do nothing with their lives except join their other out-of-work friends at the local pub and get their inspiration from pints of Irish ale.

Yes, The Van concludes Doyle's trilogy on a sad note. And that will no doubt throw fans of the first two movies for a loop. This movie has its share of funny moments, but the atmosphere has changed this time around. For one thing, the two central characters aren't necessarily a particularly likable pair, although I get the feeling the filmmakers want us to like them.

The two main characters are Bimbo and Larry. Bimbo (Donal O'Kelly) has just received his pink slip. Like most of his other friends, he's now on welfare, spending his time in the local pub. But he isn't satisfied. While he says his friend Larry (Colm Meaney) is "used to doing nothing," Bimbo wants to work. He even considers applying at McDonalds. But Larry likes that his pal is out of work. He shows up at his front door rightaway, golf clubs in hand, ready to play a few holes. Bimbo's right. Larry has grown accustomed to not working. Bimbo sees an opportunity, though, when a friend shows them a van for sale. It's coated with dirt and grease ("It's like the inside of a leper!" says Larry) and the engine doesn't work, but the kitchen equipment still operates. Bimbo buys the van and Larry helps him renovate it. They scrape with putty knives and scour the insides with Ajax, while neighborhood kids taunt them with calls of "scrubbers!" but Bimbo and Larry are determined. And eventually "Bimbo's Burgers" is ready for business.

Larry and Bimbo go van shopping in
The Van.

Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.)

And before long the van is a roaring success. However, it soon becomes an uneasy working relationship. For starters, Larry likes to insult customers and anyone else within earshot. But then Bimbo puts Larry on a salary, which Larry interprets as the ultimate insult. He sees himself as a hired worker again. From then on, the friendship is on rocky terms, with Larry growling and acting surly.

The first two thirds of the movie is excellent and easily the equal of The Commitments or The Snapper. At times The Van even recalls the wondrously optimistic atmosphere that director Alan Parker created in The Commitments, as when Bimbo buys the van and Larry and Bimbo push it home while hordes of curious neighbors follow them. "What have I gotten into!" shouts Larry.

However, as the relationship between Bimbo and Larry becomes increasingly strained, the movie starts to sputter. Part of the problem is their relationship was never built on a strong emotional bond. It was a relationship of convenience instead--someone to play golf with, someone to drink beer with, someone to pick up women with. We are supposed to believe they are close friends, but the movie never makes a good case for their closeness.

Colm Meaney is a wonderfully charismatic, "everyman" type of actor. (He also starred in both The Snapper and The Commitments.) Even while he sulks about being a hired hand again, he can still make Larry a fun character to watch. But as the story veers toward its conclusion (which I won't reveal) and Bimbo makes a big sacrifice to save his friendship with Larry, the effect falls flat and fails to become convincing. As a result, a large part of the audience will probably side with Bimbo's wife, Mary (Caroline Rothwell), who doesn't really like Larry. The Van is two-thirds of a good movie, but because Larry and Bimbo's friendship was always superficial, the movie's last third becomes hollow.

The Van Web site

Fox Searchlight Web site

A Fox Searchlight Pictures Presentation


LarryColm Meaney
BimboDonal O'Kelly
MaggieGer Ryan
MaryCaroline Rothwell
DianeNeili Conroy
KevinRuaidhri Conroy
WeslieBrendan O'Carroll
SamStuart Dunne
Directed byStephen Frears
Produced byLynda Myles
Screenplay byRoddy Doyle
Based on the novel byRoddy Doyle
Director of PhotographyOliver Stapelton
Production DesignerMark Geraghty
Music byEric Clapton &
Richard Hartley
EditorMick Audsley
Executive ProducerMark Shivas
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