The Austin Chronicle

The Van

Rated R, 99 min. Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Stuart Dunne, Brendan O'Carroll, Ruaidhri Conroy, Neili Conroy, Caroline Rothwell, Ger Ryan, Donal O'Kelly, Colm Meaney.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 18, 1997

The Van, which is the final film adaptation of Dublin author Roddy Doyle's “Barrytown Trilogy” (Alan Parker's The Commitments and Frears' The Snapper preceded), is a humorous, thoughtful look at a pair of adult male friends. Larry (Meaney) and Bimbo (O'Kelly) ride the waves (and dole queues) of unemployment and, eventually, partnership when they go into business together after Bimbo purchases a broken-down fast-food van. Before the entrance of the titular automobile, the pair pass the time at the pubs and at each other's houses, chewing the fat, philosophizing, and generally carrying on like a pair of best friends making the best of a not-so-grand situation. When Bimbo's friend Weslie (O'Carroll) offers him a chance to purchase what surely must be the most decrepit Take-Away van in all of Ireland, he jumps at the chance, seeing it as a way out of his increasingly desperate financial straits. After a lengthy interlude in which Bimbo, Larry, and friends clean and paint the van, the two formally agree to go into business together, banking on the promise of a steady stream of customers provided by the upcoming World Cup qualifying matches between England and Ireland. And it all works, up to a point, despite the fact that the van at first has no engine and must be towed around from parking lot to alleyway by Bimbo's equally shoddy car. Predictably, as the business relationship between the two men grows, their personal friendship begins to falter and, eventually, almost collapses beneath the weight of their joint venture. As owner of the van (gleefully christened Bimbo's Burgers), Bimbo is naturally Larry's superior, a fact that soon causes the more loutish Larry to buckle. Frears' Barrytown is a remarkable place, more shadowy and economically deprived than in previous outings, but still with an inherent sense of Irish charm. Add to that the backdrop of the World Cup -- itself full of exciting possibilities -- and you've got a clever, knowing take on male camaraderie that makes Robert Bly look like the trend-hopper he is. To be sure, there are long patches of thick, Irish-brogue-laden exposition that slow the film down from time to time, and the characters of Larry and Bimbo seem occasionally broad, particularly Larry. That aside, this remains a fine way to close the book on Barrytown and its colorful residents, as always, with friendship and tears, comedy and tragedy.

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