328 – Venus

It’s true, Peter O’Toole is not quite dead yet, and neither is his wonderful career. In an Oscar-nominated performance, O’Toole plays Maurice Russell, a veteran of stage and screen in the twilight of his existence who unexpectedly finds himself falling for a woman fifty years younger than him. It’s a classic romance.

Every day, Maurice comes ’round to visit his friend Ian, also a longtime actor, who is convalescing. Ian has procured for himself someone to take care of him, the daughter of his niece. Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) is in her early twenties and is aimless, jobless, and even somewhat expressionless, and it’s not long before she and Ian are locking horns. From the moment Maurice sets eyes on the girl, she’s either stuffing her face or guzzling some of Ian’s booze. Oh, and she wants to be a model.

Maurice becomes quite taken with the girl, although the feeling certainly doesn’t seem to be mutual. But really, how could it be? Maurice is supposed to be in his seventies (although here O’Toole looks about 95), and Jessie is in her twenties. When you were in your twenties, didn’t anyone at least old enough to be your father seem, you know, kind of decrepit in your mind? There’s simply no realistic scenario that would have Jessie falling madly in love with Maurice, and thankfully that never really happens.

But then what exactly does Jessie see in Maurice? Well, for one thing, as Ian dislikes her on sight, Maurice is kind and giving – he even attempts to find a modeling job for her, albeit as a nude model. He calls Jessie “Venus” because of a painting they see depicting the goddess. (Hey, it’s as good a reason as any.) So there’s sort of a symbiotic relationship going on – Jessie gets support from Maurice, because Ian is better able to put up with her if Maurice is on her side, and Maurice gets to leer at her with a crooked grin. That might have been appealing, say, twenty years ago, but Peter O’Toole looks wan and about to keel over. I know, that’s how the character was supposed to look anyway, but the whole relationship felt a little creepy, to be honest. Perhaps that’s why Jessie isn’t painted as a complete innocent but rather as a young woman reveling in her many flaws.

This was O’Toole’s eighth Oscar nomination (he’s never won), and he did deserve it – his Maurice is elegant, whimsical, charming, and lecherous, all traits associated with O’Toole in real life. O’Toole brings quite a bit of gravitas and wit to an otherwise lightweight, pedestrian role, and his mere presence livened up every scene. Whittaker, surprisingly, is certainly his equal, matching her famous costar in even their most intimate, lowest-key scenes.

Speaking of which, I had to fuss with the volume several times. Some of the scenes are SO low key that you can’t hear what anyone’s saying, and yet in other scenes the volume’s at normal level. It’s as if the director thought that merely having his fine actors recite serious lines in a serious setting was not enough, so he made them mumble them, too. A little irritating.

All in all, this is a slow movie that strives to find great, deep meaning in Relationships, Aging, and Death but fails to completely deliver on any of them.

**

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