Everyone has things that push their personal “problematic” buttons; for me, it’s the whimsical portrayal of someone who was likely mentally ill as a free spirit whose function was teaching an artist important life lessons. The artist in question is writer Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), whose memoir is the source material for this story of his sort-of-friendship with Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a homeless woman living out of a van that was parked in Bennett’s London driveway for 15 years. Smith is predictably entertaining as Miss Shepherd, and Bennett crafts a funny meta-script out of the division between the part of him that writes and the part him that lives. But the part of him that writes did decide to turn this person into a character in his work, despite a back-story suggesting that a traumatic separation from not one but two callings deeply wounded her, along with a tragic event for which she feels unquenchable guilt. Turning that life into a brisk comedy—in which matters like how a homeless person deals with bodily functions are among the punch lines—feels rather hard to justify.
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