|Movie Review: Venus
||[Feb. 7th, 2007|09:30 pm]
First, my apologies to the Oscar movie marathon people who slogged through Half Nelson and Babel. If only we had known that the best movie of the four was the one we ran out of steam before seeing!
When I saw the previews for Venus, I figured, oh great, another Pygmalion, older-man-teaches-young-girl-and-becomes-a-better-person-for-it movie. I was not excited by the prospect. Still, it was Peter O'Toole, so I was willing to give it a shot.
It turned out to be lovely, melancholy, and heartbreakingly honest. Maurice is an aging actor - aging as in pushing 90 - but he's still working. Working gives him a reason to do more than just sit in a pub reminiscing with his fellow former actors. And on the days when he's not working, sitting in a pub reminiscing with his fellow former actors gives him a reason to get out of bed in the morning at all.
And then his friend Ian's niece sends her daughter, Jessie, to Ian to "take care of him." Jessie horrifies Ian, but immediately fascinates Maurice, who goes out of his way to take Jessie off Ian's hands. He takes it on himself to help Jessie find work. Along the way, he gives her a bit of cultural education, but this is clearly for his own benefit. He is cultivating himself a perfect Venus.
There is no coy winking at the audience about Maurice's attraction to Jessie, no pretending that it is normal. It is creepy, and the movie lets you know that it knows it's creepy. And then manages to get past the creepy, not to acceptable, but to someplace even better.
Jessie is awful. She is not merely ignorant, and there is nothing sincere about her. She is sullen and manipulative. And completely human. Maurice is her match, though, aware that he is gaining favors from her only because he can provide rewards, but willing to take what he can get. He is a foolish old man, but he knows it. And that's what keeps the movie from drifting off-track into mawkish territory.
Maurice's relationship with his old friends is not new territory; smart-mouthed old men are a staple of movies. But it still manages to be delightful because the affection between them is closer to On Golden Pond than it is to Grumpy Old Men.
As in all movies, there is crisis, and growth, and change. And even as the movie wends its way toward inevitabilities, it remains honest. I loved the way it ended: sweet without cheating to get there.
Up until now, I was certain that Forrest Whitaker was a shoe-in for Best Actor, but now I'm rooting for Peter O'Toole. It was a terrific performance. It's a very small movie, but if you get the chance, you should definitely see it.