First off, let me just point out that I watched this via Netflix streaming, and I’m not sure where they got their copy, but it had all of the earmarks of being an edited for television version. There were oddly timed cuts where the screen would just go black for a second or two as if to indicate where the commercials should go. None of the nudity mentioned in the Amazon reviews was present, and practically any word which may have been deemed offensive was censored out. Choose your viewing option wisely.
The Van is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. By intent, it’s a comedy and a coming of age film, but it’s not very funny, nor is it particularly poignant.
That being said, I still watched the whole thing and here’s why.
The Van is like a perfect time capsule of 1977.
Obviously filmed on a smaller budget, the movie uses many actual locations and settings. Unlike a bigger budget film where you’d have sets constructed for key scenes, here we get to see a glimpse of what it really looked like in the 70’s. There’s a pizza joint, a car wash, and a few other locales which give you a good sense of just how different it was back then. Most notably, the lack of graphic design really stands out. Today you can’t look down a city street without being assaulted by advertising, back then, not so much. There’s a sparse-ness to the past, which I think we tend to forget or at least not consider these days. That alone is worth a few minutes viewing, even if you don’t stick around for the whole film.
You also get to see the fashions of the day. T-shirts with iron on decals tucked into jeans worn with a belt. Girls with loose flowy blouses and a big wavy hair. It’s all here for your viewing pleasure.
Of course, it should be mentioned that this film was released around the height of the van craze and apart from the main character’s ridiculous ride, we do get to see some pretty sweet examples of the road palaces everyone wanted back in the day. Reminds me of the van my cousin had. It was hard not to think of him and wonder what adventures he had as I watched.
For the most part, The Van is a typical, albeit poor, teen comedy trying to cash in on the popular sub-culture of the times. I imagine there were many who saw this at the drive-in from the comfort of their own vans, and in all likelihood, is probably best enjoyed now as it was then, with a six-pack or two, while hanging with your friends.