When I noticed that 45 Years had a 96% rating with the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 76% with the audiences alarm bells went off. Normally when there is such a wide disparity in this direction, the movie, while artful, doesn’t appeal to broader audiences in the same way it does the critics. That being said, I wasn’t going to miss it because I wanted to see the Oscar -nominated performance by Charlotte Rampling (if her name doesn’t ring a bell, go back and watch Georgy Girl – one of her first films – she is the drop-dead gorgeous roommate and has worked pretty consistently ever since).
My instincts were correct. This is a difficult film experience. Younger audiences will not relate and older audiences might find it a little too close to home. But this isn’t just another depressing film about aging. The film follows Kate and Geoff Mercer in the week before they celebrate their 45th anniversary. They are going about well-established daily routines when a letter comes for Geoff telling him that the body of his former girlfriend (Katya) has been found in the Swiss Alps. Katya had disappeared while on a hike with Geoff over 50 years ago and the body was found entombed in ice.
Kate, played by Charlotte Rampling, knows little about Katya and what she discovers over the course of the week changes their lives forever. I won’t say too much more about the plot, as it is best to watch it unfold through the eyes and facial expressions of Rampling who is just brilliant in this role. Tom Courtenay is also excellent as Geoff but this film is all Ramplings. There are few words that need to be spoken as she comes to the realization that someone who has been dead for 50 years has impacted the course of her life.
This film is worth seeing for the acting alone but do not go into it thinking that it will be an uplifting story. Score B+
The Lady in the Van
The tour de force that is Dame Maggie Smith is the main reason to see this movie. She dominates the film with her facial expressions and delivery of lines. This is the story of how a homeless woman living out of the back of her van comes to reside in the driveway of Playwright Alan Bennett (played by Alan Jennings) for 15 years. Mr. Bennett wrote the story of this relationship and put it on the stage before it became a movie. The motives of Mr. Bennett in allowing this homeless woman (Margaret Shepherd) with both mental and physical limitations to stay in a filthy van on his property are suspect. This is depicted on screen by the “living” Mr. Bennett and his alter ego the “writer” Mr. Bennett going back and forth relative to why he is allowing her to stay. I found the technique of using the actor to be both the character and his alter ego a bit distracting but not a big problem.
I struggled a bit with Bennett’s superficial knowledge of Margaret. We never learn much about her or what led to her homelessness and destitution. We get the basic gist but for someone who lived a few feet away from her for 15 years, Mr. Bennett does not get much insight into the person living in his driveway. I assume it is a combination of Ms. Shepard’s lack of communication and Mr. Bennett’s unwillingness to pursue her story. Although given that Mr. Bennett was a writer, you’d think he would try and take a deep dive into her life. I can only attribute it to his rather introverted and quirky personality but it makes what could have been a great story only a good one. Had Maggie Smith not been playing the main character, it may have been a marginal movie.
Like 45 Years, this film isn’t for the millennial crowd. Both films show different and difficult aspects of the aging process, which will resonate more soundly with AARP members. Neither film is particularly upbeat although Dame Maggie delivers some zingers and is easier to watch than 45 Years. This year has been a big one for Ms. Smith with the 2nd Exotic Marigold Hotel, the final season of Downton Abbey and now the Lady in the Van. She is the reason to watch all three. I hope we see more of her in the years to come but for now, I’ll take what I can get. Score B.