Monday, January 29, 2007


Venus is the story of Maurice Russell (Peter O’Toole, in an Oscar-nominated role), an actor whose best days (actually, nearly all of his days) are behind him and who is in the process of learning how to die so that when that event comes to pass he will know how to play the role. He is content these days to take small roles and nosh at the local eatery with his mates. You get the sense, though, that Maurice isn’t quite through living just yet, or that perhaps he has some unfinished business to attend to before he shuffles off this mortal coil.

Enter Jessie, a brash young girl related to Maurice’s mate Ian, and who comes to stay with Ian to...what, take care of him in his dotage? This is the stated purpose of her arrival in the story, but the fact is that it doesn’t matter what she’s there for - it only matters that she’s there; and the only reason that matters is that there would be no character for Peter O’Toole to play if there were no Jessie in the story.

Maurice is a man who likes to give other people pleasure, both professionally as a stage actor, and personally as a sort of modern-day Lothario. Vanessa Redgrave plays his ex-wife - he left her at some point in their life because he is the kind of man who leaves his wife at some point in their life. That they have stayed in touch over the years, seemingly come to terms with each other, and now at the end of life take care of one another after a fashion, suggests that it must be surmised that love really does conquer all - or is at least resigned to the idea of forgive and forget when there is a light bulb that needs to be changed.

Maurice takes it upon himself to introduce himself to Jessie and to befriend her - yet one more conquest in a long line of them, never mind the fact that Jessie is only about nineteen or so, and Maurice is roughly as old as Yoda (and is about to undergo prostate surgery that will render him impotent). Yet that’s not really the point - the point is that it is a fine thing when we meet people who can accept us just the way we are and like us and love us not in spite of the way we are, but because of the way we are.

Jessie has little in the way of real love in her life - telling Maurice at one point that her mother once said to her that her life would have been easier if Jessie had not been born - and is eventually drawn to Maurice because she craves the love and attention that he foists upon her. She also knows, quite apart from the surgery that renders him impotent, that he is safe. The two begin a strange sort of courtship that is not really a courtship, and learn many things about life and love (and, in Jessie’s case, fame) from each other.

The problem, however, is the sexual tension between the two characters, especially the way that sexuality manifests itself in some rather crude scenes scattered throughout the film. Maurice’s ship has sailed, so to speak, in that regard - his little elf has left Midde-Earth for good - and Jessie does not truly have anything to give him, even if he had the means of taking it. She begins to relent to his awkward advances only as she begins to get to know him better, and seems at turns repulsed and aroused by the attention he pays to her body. You can almost see her working it out in her head how this might have been sixty or seventy years ago when all of him was still in good working order.

The sexual tension, then, serves only to illustrate how pathetic the characters are; it does not cause the audience to sympathize with two people who might have been a lovely couple if roughly everything in their lives (including the facts of their births) had gone differently.

Instead, it is the romance between Maurice and Jessie that opens up their characters and lets them see things about life and themselves that they have missed. Maurice demonstrates this better than Jessie does, when he shares a very sweet, tender moment with his ex-wife. Jessie, unfortunately, is drawn into another scene of overt sexuality that is both clumsy and crude, and useless.

Ultimately, this is little more than a vehicle for Peter O’Toole in the twilight of his remarkable career - a story worked up just to give him a shot at that elusive Best Actor Oscar that has eluded him the previous seven times he has been nominated for it. The story isn’t really much of a stretch, though; it’s basically Peter O’Toole playing Peter O’Toole - just sort of picture how life might have gone for him if he had turned down Lawrence Of Arabia.

In any other year, he might have won the award, too. It’s sort of a shame, I guess - although I would have felt bad for him if he had to accept his long-coveted Oscar for a movie like this. I won’t have too, though, because Forest Whitaker will win for The Last King Of Scotland, unless the Academy voters make one of those egregious lifetime achievement mistakes the way they did when Julia Roberts won for Erin Brockovich.


Hillary said...

...!? what happened to the other post with the bad puns??!

John Peddie said...

wasn't sure i liked it or was sort of bothering me all day.

Hillary said...

well, you posted something else, so i suppose i can forgive you.