Friday, March 11, 2011

The Movie List: Venus (2006)

Film: Venus
Director: Roger Michell
Nominations: 1 (Best Actor, Peter O'Toole)

Everybody ages. This is an unavoidable, essential part of life. And though aging changes a lot of things in a person's life, there are some things that remain the same, principle among them love. Venus is a film that explores the May-December romance, but has a hard time finding anything new or interesting to say about it.

Venus tells the story of Maurice (Peter O'Toole), a thespian in his twilight years who doesn't get many roles beyond "corpses" and just likes to hang around with his pals, Ian (Leslie Phillips) and Donald (Richard Griffiths). Facing a fading career and the possibility of prostate cancer, Maurice falls in love with 20-year-old Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), Ian's niece who's watching after him, despite the fact that Maurice is still married to his estranged wife. At first Jessie resists Maurice's attempts at romancing her, but allows him to buy her things and take her places. She soon enough finds herself somewhat falling for Maurice, though the two's relationship is never stable.

There are a lot of fundamental problems with the film, starting with the fact that writer Hanif Kureishi (previously best known for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) has no idea what kind of relationship these characters have, and where they're going. He throws a bunch of romantic cliches together in hopes that they'll stick, but the result is a plot that never seems to be moving forward or seeing any significant changes. Also plaguing the film is director Michell's inability to make any of this story interesting. Aside from a few great shots, his work is extraordinarily dull, and it sucks a lot of life out of the film. Plus he never figures out the tone of Maurice and Jessie's relationship, swinging from paternal to romantic and back from scene to scene. It makes the film difficult to follow, and it destroys the real chemistry between O'Toole and Whittaker.

Which brings me to the performance aspect: the film is stacked with great actors, but all of them are stuck in boring roles that don't allow them to do much. Vanessa Redgrave is largely wasted in her small role, as are Phillips and Griffiths. Whittaker, who made her feature debut here, fares the best, in a performance that announced her as an actress to watch, and for good reason: through her hard shell shines a girl who wants to be loved, and sees in Maurice just the man to do so, despite his age. And O'Toole....poor Mr. O'Toole. He's a legendary actor, and has delivered his fair share of incredible, Oscar worthy performances in the past (perhaps no better than in Lawrence of Arabia). Alas, Maurice will not rank among them. O'Toole still has his effervescent blue-eyed charm, and does his best to elevate the role, but cannot overcome the horny-old-man characterization and grumpy-old-men goofiness. Its most likely that O'Toole earned an Oscar nomination for this role for being Peter O'Toole more than anything else, but its a shame to see an actor of his caliber slumming in a role like this.

Ultimately, Venus is an underwhelming mess of a romance. Not even a brilliant cast can overcome the weak material and poor direction here.


Jose said...

O'Toole is just being O'Toole in the way Kate Hepburn was Kate Hepburn in "On Golden Pond". One of those "let's show 'em the old ones still got it" kind of thing.
I for once was glad he lost for such a cliché role.

Jason H. said...

Agreed. Being a legend is the sort of thing that honorary Oscars are for; its sad that at his age those are the only roles readily available. Given a meaty role, he could easily knock it out of the park and earn his first Oscar win. But instead he's pandered to with this crap.