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The Van
Starring Colm Meaney and Donal O'Kelly
Screenplay by Roddy Doyle
Music by Eric Clapton and Richard Hartley; performed by Clapton
Directed by Stephen Frears

The Van is the final installment in writer Roddy Doyle's trilogy of stories set in the fictitious Irish town of Barryville. First came The Commitments, which Cranky loved. Second came The Snapper, which Cranky liked. Now comes The Van, filled with language which will put off most of middle America, as almost every sentence has an "F" word in it. Or an "S" word. Or the Irish equivalent to things you wouldn't want your mother to hear. Of course, Cranky is from Brooklyn, reads Irish writers and dates Irish women, so he had no problem with this. In general, Cranky liked The Van, but in comparison it is the least of the three.

The Commitments centered on youthful optimism (and great music) as a way of overcoming an economically lesser life, at least for a while. The Snapper centered on an illegitimate pregnancy and its effect on a lower class family. The Van is about friendship, and a lifestyle centered on permanent unemployment. The Brits call it living "on the dole." We call it welfare.

Colm Meaney, who supported in The Commitments, had close to a starring role in The Snapper and is best known to American audiences for his roles as O'Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine takes center stage and does, well, the best that he can as one of the longterm unemployed. Donal O'Kelly plays the other side of the equation, an Irishman who can't not work.

Larry (Meaney) has been on it so long his life revolves around his friends in the local pub, all on the dole. When Larry's best friend Brendan (O'Kelly), aka "Bimbo," gets his notice after 25 years as a baker, he is welcomed to the fraternity of the pub.

The catch is that Bimbo has a huge check coming to him. With the money he buys a van, intending to sell fast food at sporting events and concerts and the like. Being the kindly soul that he is, Bimbo brings Larry into the deal. The problem is that Larry has been unemployed for so long, he doesn't know how to work. The cramped conditions, and cooking heat from the grill and deep fry don't help and after a time the two friends are at each other's throats. Bimbo is too meek to put his foot down and Larry's aggressiveness (and laziness, to be quite frank) pushes him into an employer-employee relationship that puts the brakes to the friendship.

What works onscreen, most of the time, is the relationship between the men. What doesn't work is the seemingly sudden deterioration of that relationship. Larry gets angry from out of nowhere. It feels like something is missing, or has been edited and is the only thing dislikable about Meaney's performance.

Add to this the problem of subplots that are impenetrable to the American eye. Larry's wife is taking some kind of test, but we don't know what for. There's another old sot of an unemployed friend, Weslie, whose purpose in the story is so minor -- he finds the van and arranges the purchase deal for Bimbo -- that his continued presence in the film is distracting.

Cranky's broken a rule in this review, and has made a comparison to previous flicks. But the rating makes The Van stand all on its own, and based on that, it don't do well.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Van, he would have paid...


If you've already made it through the first two flicks in the trilogy, and liked them, add another two.

Click to buy films by Stephen Frears
Click to buy films starring Colm Meaney
Click to buy music by Eric Clapton

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