“Do heavy metalers eat chips Larry?”
Set in Dublin and based on the third and final installment of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, The Van tells the story of two out of work, middle-aged friends down on their luck and seeking fresh pastures, who come up with the idea of starting their own fast food business. I say business but what I really mean is a cheap van with a cheap deep fryer selling crummy fish and chips and dodgy burgers.
Bimbo (Donal O’Kelly) has just been let go from his job in the local bakery and determined not to be swallowed up by the welfare system – which seems to be doing the rounds around Dublin – he recruits his best bud Larry (Colm Meaney) and purchases a less than savoury, second hand white van for his new, exciting endeavour – Bimbo’s Burgers. With what remains of his redundancy payment, Bimbo then attempts to transform the dingy vehicle into a mobile money-making project. There’s just one problem, Bimbo hasn’t realised that operating a fast food van isn’t as easy as it looks.
Despite a positive beginning to their joint venture, Bimbo and Larry soon butt heads when it becomes evident that Larry can’t be left to do anything on his own. The locals flood out and help support their fellows but Larry continues to mess things up in various chaotic fashion, causing calamity and of course endless humour ensues. Lacking basic social skills and an elemental work ethic, Larry enlists the help of his two children who only end up assisting in his downfall by sharing his less than proficient capabilities in the work place. Much of the bulk of the middle act focusses on Larry’s redundant efforts and clashes with unhappy customers, one which involves a baby’s dirty nappy – that’s all I’m going to say on that.
There’s probably no author out there who can properly describe working class Dublin and it’s many hilarious inhabitants better than Roddy Doyle. Like The Commitments and The Snapper before it, The Van perfectly incapsulates the life and attitude of a jovial Dublin neighbourhood, this time during the raucous events of the Republic of Ireland’s successful Italia ’90 World Cup campaign. Doyle co-wrote the screenplay along with director Stephen Frears and the movie does everything in its power to portray all it’s characters with as much humour as is present in the original novel, albeit by succumbing to some derogatory clichés.
O’Kelly and Meaney are both on fine form, with the latter especially stealing many of the scenes. It’s simply impossible not to like Colm Meaney. While much of the movie blatantly relies on a diluted form of slapstick, many of it’s Irish viewers will find hilarious references that may seem hidden to others. But never fear, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy this movie. In fact the very heart and soul of the movie – the desperate plight by one man to be successful in his elder years and the struggle to maintain even the deepest friendships – should be understood and appreciated by all. The Van unashamedly celebrates many aspects that is inherently linked with being Irish and why the hell not?
It may not resonate with everyone out there but The Van certainly has moments that will make you laugh out loud, it may even make you wipe away an impending, lonely tear during it’s more humbling and poignant scenes. But what it does more than anything is in reminding us that it’s perfectly fine to be working class…and more importantly to never work with your best friends.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter