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WGUC Reviews

Venus

Venus
Miramax Films
Rated R
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, star-making performance.

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 lecherously creepy.


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