Directed by: Roger Michell
Premise: A waning actor (Peter O’Toole) with a zest for life begins a romance with the eighteen-year-old niece (Jodie Whittaker) of a fellow thespian (Leslie Phillips).
What Works: Venus is a terrific meditation on love and lust at different ages. One of the remarkable things in this film is its ability to make ordinarily unlikable characters into empathetic beings. O’Toole plays a dirty old man with some social grace, Whittaker’s character is a snotty, manipulative teen, and Phillips is cast as a bitter old curmudgeon. Yet, each character is given opportunities for personal frailty and in their interaction with each other they are placed in situations where the characters must face their flaws. O’Toole shines in this film and gives one of the best performances of his career. His character’s journey, facing old age and his mortality, is well done and the decisions he makes in the course of the story and his reflections on the life he has lived, for better and for worse, gives much more depth and weight to the story than so many other films that deal with mortality on a superficial level like The Bucket List. As a love story, the film is able to take on the idealization of youth and physical beauty, as epitomized by the Greek goddess Venus, and use the story to shatter the illusions of love and lust, differentiating between the two and getting to something much deeper.
What Doesn’t: The editing gets a little choppy in the middle of the film and it’s difficult to discern where O’Toole and Whittaker stand in their relationship. The ambiguity is partly intentional but it disrupts the story in what is otherwise a smooth ride.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, and deleted scenes.
Bottom Line: Venus is a terrific film. It’s not the kind of scenario we’re used to seeing where an old man is invigorated by a younger person, nor is it the cliché of the young person who learns an important life lesson by the wisdom of the old. Instead, they learn together and the result is a sensitive and emotional trip through love and lust.
Episode: #179 (February 17, 2008)