Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief nudity Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 20, 2006 Released by: Miramax
This small-scaled British entertainment will mostly find appeal with older filmgoers, but Venus sparkles because of Peter O'Toole's thoroughly captivating performance as a man with a surprising third act left in him.
Roger Michell (Notting Hill) initially fashions a pleasing take on The Sunshine Boys, but it gradually feels like a flip side to his more dramatic age relationship picture, The Mother.
O'Toole, finally getting a role worthy of his grand stature, is the septuagenarian Maurice, "a bit famous" actor relegated to hospital bed parts ("I'm being typecast as a corpse").
Leslie Phillips is Maurice's drama actor pal Ian with whom he spends much time drinking and carrying along cantankerously.
The screenplay by Hanif Kureshi, Michell's collaborator, has much foul-mouthed banter early on, and takes form with the London arrival of Ian's brash grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Ian hardly likes having her around his modest flat.
Maurice sees something in her that no one else sees in her pink velour wonder. He'll show her around town and get her a "modeling" gig in an art class that he attempts to audit. Even some unfortunate news about his prostate will slow him down.
O'Toole's presence presents an inviting dynamic between Maurice, Ian, and Jessie with his acerbic, crackling, even theatrical wit. With Phillips, the notions of aging are mischievously depicted. And, Whittaker takes time to make the character of Jessie more expressive and less sullen. But, she is enlivened by the old chap who is likewise. The title sweetly comes from a visit to the National Gallery.
While Whittaker, more than five decades O'Toole's junior, gives some indication of her late teenage issues, she nicely plays opposite the randy, gleefulness around her.
Effective backup comes from Richard Griffiths (The History Boys) in contrast as a old-time drinking pal. And, more importantly from the dowdy, yet still attractive Vanessa Redgrave as Maurice's patient, estranged ex-wife. The depth in her scenes with O'Toole make one realize how important and vital their life was so long ago.
The story, for some, may struggle to balance the comic with the increasing pathos, yet the actorly showcase is vivid, unsentimental, and ribald as a shameless man confronts his feelings about beauty and youth. Michell lets his performers, especially an eloquently foul-mouthed O'Toole, keeps us engaged in a compact movie with capriciousness towards pop culture and literature, augmented with breezy soulful sounds and warm lensing.