CAPSULE: A septuagenarian London gentleman brings a young woman into his house to take care of him and he and his friend are shocked at how much difference there can be in a multi-generation gap. Through the barrier of age, Maurice finds himself attracted to the woman half a century his junior and he makes an effort to understand her. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Old age does not come all at once. The approach of decline and death comes on little cats' feet, almost imperceptibly over a long period of aging. Watching day by day one does not notice the change as it happens, one can only compare over long intervals of time and then be surprised at the accumulated change. Roger Michell's VENUS is a study of May-December relationship, not really sexual, but not entirely not either. It is a study of a man scrutinizing and trying to understand the last bits of his life.
Maurice (played by Peter O'Toole) is elderly though he has not fully accepted it. To a previous generation he was a familiar actor and among his friends he is still has celebrity. But he finds that younger people are not so aware of him. He knows he is much closer to the end than the beginning, and still fights to maintain some verve. It is not an easy struggle. Roger Michell's VENUS is a comedy/drama studying the character of an elderly man and of a woman about twenty who have to deal with each other.
Maurice struggles to adapt to life inside a body that is slowly running down. He still keeps up his friendships and remains as active has he can. But a reminder of his age is coming. He spends a lot of time with his friend Ian (veteran actor Leslie Phillips). Ian brings his niece's daughter in to take care of him. Some part of Maurice is still young and some part of him is attracted to the twenty-ish Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Maurice tries to take in his stride that she thinks of him as almost a different species. She had never heard of him as an actor. Nor does she listen to his kind music, and he does not know her music. It is as if they are from different countries.
Maurice has what he likes to think of as refinement and wisdom. Jessie clearly values neither very much. She is frequently vulgar and coarse, qualities which take Maurice somewhat aback and even chase Ian out of the house. Maurice wants to help Jessie and at the same time to refine her. Then, not unlike the plot of Shaw's "Pygmalion", he finds he is somewhat attracted to the semi-refined person he has made of her.
The performances are top-notch, but the idea of the story is not original and the twists that come are not entirely unexpected. As Kenneth Turan points out, when Peter O'Toole was given an honorary Academy Award three years ago he chided the judges by saying he was still in the acting game and apparently he is. He was nominated for another Academy Award for the role as Maurice, so indeed we are still hearing from him. Maurice is not a role to compare with some of his great ones, but he handles it in fine style. The O'Toole who had such strength in LAWRWENCE OF ARABIA now has a natural frailty that runs through his performance as a man denying his weakening state. He has to do things like slapping himself just to force himself out of bed. Jodie Whittaker is a newcomer, but she gives a strong performance. Also around is a small role for Vanessa Redgrave as Maurice's one-time wife.
Some of the budget constraints on this film can be seen in the dull film stock on which it was released, but the film is engaging. There is a good deal of humanity and a bit of nostalgia. I rate VENUS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0489327/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper