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5 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Lybarger

"You’d better practice a few acceptance speeches, Mr. O’Toole."
4 stars

When Peter O’Toole was originally awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar after having seen none of his eight nominations come to fruition, he politely declined because he thought there was still a very good chance he could still earn a trophy for a future performance. After seeing him in “Venus,” it seems he may have been right.

Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (“My Beautiful Launderette”) and director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) have fashioned an ideal vehicle for him. It’s not a stretch for O’Toole to be playing an aging actor, but the performer takes full advantage of the role. Yes, he looks his age (74), but his thundering, melodious voice and magnetic eyes are still there and demand attention every time he steps into frame.

O’Toole plays Maurice, who initially appears to be the better off of two aging London actors. His pal Ian (Leslie Phillips) has a failing memory. While Maurice can live on his own and still find occasional jobs, about all Ian can look forward to is having his niece’s daughter take on his needs.

On second thought, maybe an earlier death might make Ian happier. Without doing anything intentionally malicious, the young woman named Jessie (newcomer Jodie Whittaker) manages to drive her great uncle crazy. Her crass manners, thick rural dialect and loud music send him hobbling away from the apartment.

Maurice, however, finds her completely enchanting. Even though Jessie speaks in monosyllables and has unrealistic career goals (her ambition is “moodeling”), Maurice can’t get enough of her and goes to great lengths to impress her. He takes her on shopping trips he can ill-afford and brings her along on some of his undignified acting gigs. Maurice also discovers that all of his sophisticated banter he’s sweet-talked the rest of the world with is borrowed.

At times, she’s repulsed by his desires but in other moments, she’s oddly attracted to the man who’s probably older than her grandfather. Kureishi adds an interesting wrinkle to the May-December story by making Maurice unable to fulfill his advances. A recent prostate surgery has left him impotent.

Kureishi and Michell come up with dozens of charming moments that manage to make the timeworn setup seem fresh. The film’s opening is a riot as Maurice and Ian start comparing their medications and deciding which ones give better highs.

While O’Toole dominates “Venus,” he thankfully doesn’t have to carry the film on his own. Vanessa Redgrave has a short but delightful turn as the ex-wife that Maurice has neglected in his quest for fame. And Whittaker manages to subtly transform as the film progresses. She effortlessly morphs into a more glamorous being as Maurice’s affection becomes more abstract.

The conclusion is a bit muddy, but it’s still a treat to see one of the screen’s greatest performers demonstrate that age, no matter how debilitating, can still be a friend.

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originally posted: 12/27/06 17:12:03
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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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