(director: Roger Michell; screenwriter: Hanif Kureishi; cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos; editor: Nic Gaster; music: songs by Corinne Bailey Rae/additional music by Ms. Rae and David Arnold; cast: Peter O’Toole (Maurice), Leslie Phillips (Ian), Jodie Whittaker (Jessie), Richard Griffiths (Donald), Vanessa Redgrave (Valerie); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Kevin Loader; Miramax; 2006)

“The only thing that resonated with me was O’Toole, who is at his playful best playing a role made to order for him of the boozer rascal who could charm a snake.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Even in an awkward part that calls for the frail 74-year-old Peter O’ Toole to be foolishly gawking at a nubile beauty and wearing a leaky catheter, he stills brings a strong combination of self-mockery and stature to a slight film that lives through his remarkable performance. Roger Michell (“The Mother”) keeps it as a showcase film for O’Toole to do his thing unimpeded and take the role wherever, while writer Hanif Kureishi tries to get to some substance about youth, beauty and aging and, at the same time, to keep it from getting too cutesy and falling too deeply into sitcom or Golden Pond territory. But the story never catches fire and the only thing that resonated with me was O’Toole, who is at his playful best playing a role made to order for him of the boozer rascal who could charm a snake.

The story is set in London and focuses on a few senior citizens trying to make it through the day with as little pain as possible, even if means popping pills not listed on their medical charts. Maurice (Peter O’Toole) is a roguish hedonistic veteran stage actor, once famous but though now in decline still getting bit TV parts, who in the last stage of life spends time with his grumpy friend Ian (Leslie Phillips), a tense fellow actor who raises his blood pressure due to his bad case of nerves. The plot involves the arrival of Ian’s moronic low-class grand-niece, the nineteen-year-old Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), to look after Ian as a live-in caretaker in his tiny flat but whose slovenly ways upset the curmudgeon because she can’t cook, is crude, insensitive and drinks his booze dry. But Maurice is enthralled with her and despite her obvious bluntness, lives vicariously through her youth and wide-eyed innocence as he takes her to plays, movies and clubs to impress her with his worldliness, that he’s still a bit famous and that even though he’s impotent he can still grope her and appreciate that she’s a piece of ass. Since she needs a job and thinks that job should be a model, Maurice gets her a job as an artist’s nude model. To further her limited education, he takes her to the National Gallery to see his favorite painting of Velazquez’s portrait of Venus. Predictably they become friends after a rough start, and eventually a tender relationship develops between the older man and the younger woman that veers between being avuncular and lecherous. Though she disappoints, as she can’t become the sensual woman he imagines-she nevertheless begins to awaken to a grander world stage, in no small part this change for the better is due to his kindness.

Vanessa Redgrave has a cameo playing O’Toole’s ex-wife, who when he visits her is watching an old flick of his on TV and exclaims: “Oh, how handsome you were.” Yes, indeed!

Venus Poster