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Friday, 26 January 2007

Susan Harris Reviews Venus

[A new story, Elders Are Not Inflexible; They're Discriminating, has been published this morning at blogher.org.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Semi-official Time Goes By film reviewer, Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener and GardenRant, is back with her take on Venus for which Peter O’Toole has grabbed an Academy Award nomination this year as Best Actor. The film has been added to the TGB ElderMovie List.]

Asked by television interviewer Charlie Rose what his new movie Venus is about, actor Peter O'Toole replied: "It's about a dirty old man and a slut of a woman."

True enough, but get ready to have those stereotypes busted wide open - if not during the opening credits, then shortly thereafter.

Happy reviewer that I am, this will be short and sweet because this story of a 70-something actor and the 19-year-old object of his lust is complicated, deeply sad, and outstanding. The possibly offensive 50-year age difference is just not the point and anyway, everyone responds to it differently. You might see his lechery as more avuncular or simply a desire for vitality. Complex reactions for a complex story - ah, one of the pleasures of independent films at their best. To me, O'Toole's character was indeed a dirty old man but a fine one, fleshed out by the perfect actor for the part.

Rather than gush on at length, I'll simply report that in addition to O'Toole's Oscar-nominated and -worthy performance, there's an excellent supporting cast, including Vanessa Redgrave, called "transcendent" by Rolling Stone magazine. But possibly my favorite part of the movie is its depiction of male friendships - the verbal parrying of three long-time friends in their local pub. (Hey, where can we Americans go for the community of the English pub? The clubhouse at the retirement community? Starbucks? Seriously - we need it.)

Ageism Showing?
Readers, I looked hard but couldn't find a whiff of it in the nine or 10 reviews I read:

"Normally we'd balk at a movie about an 80-year-old man's infatuation with a teenage girl, but a geezer's lust is just the starting point for VenusA."
- Washington Post
"Don't go 'eww' at the thought of their relationship."
- Rolling Stone
It's about aging and what keeps you alive, about the getting and passing on of the wisdom of a lifetime."
- Los Angeles Times
“[Peter O'Toole and the filmmakers] refuse to yield to the all-too-pervasive idea that it's 'icky' for old people to even think about sex…His age is inconsequential. His young self is alive in him. It's there in the color of his eyes."
- Salon

(Oh, yeah, he still has it.)

Now personally, I thought I'd be attacking the film for its double standard, presenting us with yet another of those Hollywood older man/younger woman match-ups that we see far too many of, thankyouverymuch. Instead, I'm intrigued by The New York Times' mention that both Venus and a previous work by the same filmmakers, The Mother "unblinkingly examine the effects of old age."

Get this: The Mother is about a grandmother who has a passionate affair with a man half her age - Daniel Craig, no less - so you'd better believe it's going to the top of my Netflix queue. And the writer of Venus also wrote the daring and unforgettable My Beautiful Laundrette.

And I love this from O'Toole himself, describing the "relaxation that comes over you as you get older" as an actor. Asked by Charlie Rose if he feels the same enjoyment as ever in acting, he answered, "Even increasingly so, Charles.”


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:28 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

As a long time admirer of Peter O'Toole, I am delighted to hear that Venus is a worthy film. I had just about decided it wouldn't be on my "to see" list.

I wonder how this movie might compare to Brando's Last Tango In Paris(which I detested)?

Ahh, Peter O'Toole! I made certain to see him in person a number of years ago thinking he was getting old and might quit acting. I sat enthralled as I watched him on stage. And what do you know? On he goes, better and better. What a guy. What wonderful reviews!! I am impressed.

PBS recently aired a production with Peter O'Toole as an aged Cassanova. His acting was excellent, as always, and he played the part of an old sick Roue with the typical O'Toole skill. I really didn't care for the movie or the actor who played the young Cassanova but O'Toole saved the movie for me.

I think fair-warning should be given that Venus has some off-color material - heavy use of the "c" word which my be commonplace in Britain is extremely offensive to my ears. Aside from that there are scenes revolving around sticky human substances - for those of delicate sensibilities, you have been fore-warned - don't go in thinking this is all tea and cumpets. The commecial marketing campaign billing this as a comedy is off in my view as well -- more melancholy and serious than most dramas I see. Havingsaid all that, I'd recommend it to most any mature adult - if only for Vanessa Redgrave's scene-stealing show. Now WHERE is her movie spin-off? Venus 2 anyone?

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