Comfortable and Furious

Venus (2006)

Telluride Film Festival 2006

Any movie involving a dying old man and the young object of his affection should, by definition, be unendurable pap, but such a sweeping generalization fails to take into the account the presence of Peter O’Toole, a legend so effortlessly charming that he could make a bowel movement the stuff of high drama. In many ways, he’s the whole show here, and had a lesser talent been involved, it’s unlikely that the script would have even seen the light of day. Suitably, O’Toole plays an aging yet beloved actor named Maurice; a man still recognized around London, but who has now been reduced to playing corpses and expiring grandfathers.

It’s work, after all, and he’ll do what he can to earn a paycheck. His good friend (played with a high level of grouchy resignation by Leslie Philips) has decided to employ a young, snotty caretaker, who quickly catches Maurice’s eye, even though there’s not a goddamn thing he can do about it, as his prostate problems have rendered him impotent and more fit for the slab than anything resembling a bed. Still, he’d like to think he can have a grand exit, and if he can sneak a few kisses now and again, it’s worth the effort.

Normally, the prospect of a sagging bag of bones flirting with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter would raise eyebrows as well as whatever one had for lunch, but it’s never pathetic or perverted with O’Toole on board. His obsession is harmless anyway, as his lust has more to do with a stab at immortality than anything resembling a reasonable courtship. The girl in question is typical London trash; bad grammar, bad attitude, and wholesale ignorance unapologetically on display, which might have something to do with his attraction. After all, what have women of his own class ever brought him but undying grief?

She’s also convinced she’s going to be a model, so Maurice finds her a job taking off her clothes for art students. Needless to say, Maurice wants to sit in, but is forced to watch from the wings, leading to a particularly humorous scene that brings out O’Toole’s physical, as well as verbal, gifts. But with that tone of voice and those unforgettable blue eyes raging, O’Toole lends everything gravity, and his bearing — and desperate need to cling to some of his past glory — leads us to believe that this is how a man of his station would be spending his final days.

The movie proceeds much as we would expect: The girl is hostile at first, warms up a bit, brings him grief, then shows up to take that final walk to the sea, so it won’t win any prizes for originality. Regarding its plot, it’s a story that pits youth versus age in ways that are time-tested past the point where anyone should bother to care. Cantankerous old fools would kill to see one last set of tits, regret outweighs contentment, and few things suck as hard as the aging process — these things make the rounds, and surprisingly, we’re glad to see them.

Pleasant diversions are deadly in bunches, but during a festival, they can often be exactly what one needs after listening to assorted cinephiles yammer endlessly about their own coming-never-to-a-theater-near-you projects. And let us always be the sort of people who say to our aged, if you’ve survived disease, illness, depression, and loss, and still have an interest in putting your arthritic claw on some bird’s knee, you have our blessing.