Review by: Larry Thomas
If you were a movie fan during the 1970s and 80s, you no doubt attended one or
more showings of Harold and Maude. This quirky film, which was a huge
flop in its initial release, became one of the first cult movie hits, with audiences
attending repeat showings, and knowing both the dialogue and the lyrics to Cat
Stevens' song score. Bud Cort is 20-year-old Harold who meets and falls
in love with 80-year-old Maude, played by the wonderful Ruth Gordon. Although
such a trans-generational love story was quite taboo in its day, the film managed
to overcome any aversion to the subject matter by effusing the script and performances
with grand helpings of humor and charm.
Now comes Venus, a gender-flip on the Harold and Maude story,
in which an 80-year-old man becomes smitten with a 20-year-old woman. And while
Venus has its strengths, sad to say it doesn't work. The legendary
Peter O'Toole won his eighth Oscar nomination for playing an 80-year-old
charming, boozing, classically trained actor, a role that personifies the expression
"typecasting." He meets regularly in a cafe with old friends Richard
Griffiths and Leslie Philips, both retired actors, although O'Toole takes
any small role that comes along just to keep active.
Along comes Philips 20-year-old niece, who's been sent to London to live
with him and care for him in his "geezerhood." She and O'Toole
seem to have no common ground, but as he exposes her to city life and the arts,
they develop a friendship…and then something more. He calls her "Venus"
after a painting they see together.
Her real character name is Jessie, played by newcomer Jodie Whittaker, appearing
in her first feature film. She's adequate, but this is not her breakthrough,
The dialogue by scribe Hanif Kureishi, of My Beautiful Laundrette
fame, is bright and enjoyable. Direction by Notting Hill's Roger
Michell is acceptable as well. The cinematography and art direction give the
film a look and feel similar to British films from the 1960s and 70s.
Obviously designed as a vehicle for O'Toole, how can anyone fault this
legendary personality as an actor? Aside from basically playing himself, he
is fascinating to watch, and still has that "magic" that he's
displayed on the screen for the past 50 years. Although it's not an Oscar-caliber
role, the Academy no doubt saw this as a "last chance" nomination,
despite his being awarded an honorary Oscar last year. If there were an Oscar
nomination to be had, it should have gone to Leslie Philips, a veteran of British
comedy and drama, and decidedly underused in his later years. His performance
is seriously wonderful. He should be getting more critical acclaim for Venus
than O'Toole, simply because a performance this good is a revelation.
While audiences were able to exit Harold and Maude with a smile and
a song, Venus can only manage to leave one with the feeling that it's