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5 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"O’Toole Wants Breasts And An Oscar. Give Him Both."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Every human should have the sendoff they want for themselves. If death row can offer the choice of a final meal, where’s the justice in any of us hard-working (or hard-livin’) checking out without our own final wish? Maybe some rules should be instituted for legal and moral purposes. After all, the title character of Roger Michell’s latest tale of sexual obsession is the unwitting star of an old man’s desire. Only that old man is played by Peter O’Toole creating an almost greater cloud hovering over the motivations and questionable infatuation. For this is one of our greatest actors delivering a performance towards the end of an immaculate career that may finally win him the statuette he’s been denied seven times already.

Maurice (Peter O’Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips) are actors in the twilight of their career. They spend their mornings in a favorite coffee shop, going through the obituaries and sampling a table-full of medication. Ian informs his best pal that his grand niece is coming in for a stay. Mom has had it with her for a while and uncle Ian suggested it could make for a nice change of pace. Turns out her pace is more than he can handle. 19 year-old Jessie (a fetching Jodie Whittaker) is a terror according to him with all the standards that grumpy old men provide as reasons for hating the generations ahead of them. When Maurice meets her, it’s clear that she’s less favored by her new surroundings and is just passing the time as quickly as possible with television, music and eating everything in sight despite her wish to become a fashion model. Calories or not, her slender figure and innocent face are favorable to the aging thespian.

After Ian passes out during their initial meeting, Maurice takes Jessie for a night out on the town including the theater and drinks, allowing him the opportunity to impress her as a “little bit” of a celebrity. Partial to his own hopes for Jessie, he soon gets her a modeling gig – a nude one – and she is quick to realize his intentions. With her own sugar daddy in tow, Jessie begins an unspoken tradeoff with her 60-plus senior by giving him a little touchy or smelly here and there (but no touchy) to satisfy the generosity he’s more-than-willing to supply. In most circumstances there’d be a cruelty here in the manner of sexist one-upmanship, but there’s a clear kinship developed between the two that allows each to provide the other precisely what they need in the time they have together.

Anyone critical of the cinematic misogyny they considered manifested no more obvious than in the May-December plotlines may be unable to get past Maurice’s obsession with flesh, aged nineteen years. Reading between the laughter though, they may be able to look upon Maurice with a degree of sadness as just another old man with little left to live for than a glaze of a naked woman. Just don’t confuse a man’s compass as analytic for a lack of respect. Maurice’s palette is accustomed to the finer things – food, wine, art – and as he describes the correalation to the sculptures of Venus (whom he begins calling her), it’s clear that he is just not another creepy grab-ass, but a man who sees women as more than just subservient cooks and caregivers. And if they come with a piece of pie, all the better.

The recognition that Maurice is essentially an extension of the actor playing him reveals an undeniable poignancy that may be impossible to disconnect from reality. We’d love to believe that it’s all acting on his part, but O’Toole looks so fragile in many of his scenes that we hope he makes it to the final frames in one form or another. (He’s had to turn down many appearances to promote the film due to health concerns.) But within that frailness is just the kind of spunk and grace that resigns us to the fact that he’d still probably land a punch to anyone suggesting otherwise. After seeing his talent languishing in cinematic punchlines like Troy and Phantoms (where he was not “the bomb”, yo) it’s so wonderful to see O’Toole being O’Toole and playing off even such brief, but telling scenes with Vanessa Redgrave (terrific as his ex-wife) which further ingratiate his intentions to go out with no regrets.

Venus, the film, is far from perfection itself. The further obstacle introduced between Maurice and Jessie doesn’t mesh with the rest and there’s an odd irony turning us males in the audience into the perverts by twice getting a look at the goods where Maurice does not. But it’s also overloaded with charm, humor and the everlasting presence of Mr. O’Toole to gloss over any misgivings over the subject matter. He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, which is Hollywood’s equivalent of Ice Cream Friday in assisted living. I’m never in favor of “career Oscars”, the kind given to Paul Newman in ’86, Jessica Tandy in ’89 and what they’ve been trying to give Scorsese ever since he lost to Costner in ’90. But considering this is a bonafide legend, who opened his career with Lawrence of Arabia of all things, Venus would make a emotional bookend – and what better to hold up books than an eight-and-a-half pound golden statuette made in Chicago?

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originally posted: 10/25/06 01:44:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/27/09 brian Tour de force for O'Toole, but undeniable "Eewwwww" factor" 4 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. i think most of the "sexual" part of the film should have been omitted, but good film! 4 stars
7/28/07 Phil M. Aficionado You have to just see it for the actors doing what they do so very very well 4 stars
4/05/07 William Goss Should this be O'Toole's swan song, it's certainly a worthy one. He alone saves material. 4 stars
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  21-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 22-May-2007



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