Venus (2007) Review

Venus   (2007) Review
Venus   (2007) Review 1
Venus (2007)
Director(s): Roger Michell
Actor(s): Peter O'Toole, Jodie Whittaker, Leslie Phillips
Running Time: 95 min
| February 16, 2007

I’m sure that if Venus had been written by an American for an American audience, it would have been called Dirty Old Man. A lot of people in the movie business are just uninspired like that, more content to wallow in easy stereotypes than appreciate the nuances and complexities that exist in all relationships. Venus fits in this category, on the surface it could easily be overwritten as “creepy” and while that element certainly exists, the May-December relationship in the film is just as equally sweet and poignant, anchored by the talents of the legendary Peter O’Toole.

O’Toole plays Maurice, a veteran actor of stage and screen whose better days are clearly behind him and is now content to play dying patriarchs for the most part. Maurice has regular lunches with his friends Ian (Leslie Phillips) and Donald (Richard Griffiths), where they bicker like grumpy old men about all sorts of things, and he visits his sickly ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave); otherwise it’s a pretty quiet life. Ian is expecting the arrival of his niece’s daughter Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Ian believes Jessie will be good to have around as she can help him with the upkeep of the house and other domestic duties, but it becomes quickly apparent that Jessie would rather just sit around, sleep till noon, party all night, and be rude to anyone in her orbit. Maurice is fascinated and tries to befriend her by taking Jessie to the National Gallery in London and showing her his favourite painting, The Rokeby Venus. Maurice gives Jodie the nickname Venus and the two begin a bizarre kind of passive/aggressive relationship.

So what could possibly be charming about a relationship between two people separated by 50 years? I’ve got to figure that you’re sitting at your computer right now with your face scrunched up in a Summer Roberts-like “Eww” expression. Truth be told, the movie doesn’t shy away from that; the idea of Maurice being a little bit of a creepy old man is implicit in the film, but then you realize that he’s the only one that seems to want Jessie’s company. The relationship between Maurice and Jessie does skirt that fine line, and naturally it sometimes steps over that line, but these characters are really kind of messed up; Jessie thinks she’s older and wiser than she is and Maurice is staving off death through sheer force of character.

Obviously this is a showcase for O’Toole, as he demonstrates tremendous charm and a beguiling nature that makes Maurice real and more than a character with some bizarre traits. O’Toole bounces off well with his contemporary Phillips, but the real surprise is the way newcomer Whittaker manages to stand her ground against a film legend. The way they work together seems so easy, but I can’t imagine that it wasn’t intimidating for Whittaker. Their scenes together run the spectrum from funny to heartbreaking, especially their last scene together on the beach.

The film does suffer from some story and production difficulties. Most jarring was the use of Corinne Bailey Rae on the film’s soundtrack, not because I find her horrible but because her music is rather out of place for a black comedy. It really only worked in one scene, but Rae’s voice paints several scenes, and thus made it hard to determine tone as there was a discrepancy between the visuals, the dialogue, and the music. At times it felt like some important scenes were missing, and thus we really don’t get a full picture of where all the characters fall in relation to the circumstances. It’s not that you don’t know what’s going on, it’s more like the director edited and skipped stuff in the interest of brevity.

Venus is fun to watch because of its great performances and the easy way it combines the comedic and the tragic. It’s also a great chance to see a legend in action and watch Peter O’Toole deliver an age-appropriate role with tremendous grace and talent. It’s not a perfect movie, but I think it was perfect for O’Toole—an excellent showcase for a giant in the industry.

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