[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.)
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."
"Don't go 'eww' at the thought of their relationship."
It's about aging and what keeps you alive, about the getting and passing on of the wisdom of a lifetime."
“[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.”