Peter O’Toole in his heyday was what we in the biz refer to as a Hotty Hot Hot Hot. Even now, when he’s pushing 80, he could still drink you and all your fratty friends under the table. Granted, he wasn’t as capable as, say, his contemporary Paul Newman of inciting lust in any hot-blooded sixteen-year-old girl, but Pete sure made ‘em swoon back in the day. Let’s be honest: the only thing that keeps anyone awake in hour 47 of Lawrence of Arabia is the blonde bombshell O’Toole. The answer to the age-old question, “What makes the desert so hot?”, is obviously an Irish Shakespeare enthusiast. (He reads all 154 sonnets on a daily basis.)
Venus is somewhat a reverse Harold and Maude tale. O’Toole plays, essentially, a dirty old man, but one who charms the gorgeous shrew grandniece of his crotchety friend. Leslie Phillips plays the fellow aging actor who has trouble hiding his displeasure at his niece’s pottymouth and lack of respect for the elderly and their classical tastes.
This film is simply hilarious. The comedy ranges from witty dialogue to pure slapstick — and don’t worry, it is just as funny when old people fall down. O’Toole’s comic timing is as impeccable as his subtle emotional work, and perhaps more impressive. I laughed out loud in the theater. I’ll admit it — I LOL’d.
O’Toole himself is reason enough to see Venus. Even though he’s getting on in years, you see through the wrinkles and deliberate pacing to the lothario within. There is no doubt that the story is realistic because it’s impossible not to love him after watching Venus. His romance is tender, but never sappy. In fact, he barely woos the girl; she’s prone to hit him every time he gets near her.
Essentially, O’Toole portrays himself — an aging actor with a penchant for women, booze and fine art. But who better to play Peter O’Toole than Peter O’Toole? He mesmerizes just like he did back in his Lawrence days.
Any film centered around, or even marginally including, old people ticks the entire time. Old guy takes a step — tick — will he trip and fall and break his leg and die? Old guy sips some soup — tick — will he choke on broth and heave and hack and then die? Old guy clips other old guy’s toenails — tick, tick — will he accidentally clip the skin of the guy’s foot and then will guy #2 will kick him in the face and make him fall over and die? Then will the clipped guy have a stroke from having just killed his other old guy friend? I’m a betting woman, and when I watch old people onscreen, I’m just waiting for them to croak. At least Venus broaches the subject nonchalantly, in contrast to other geezer classics like On Golden Pond or Harold and Maude.
However, the film doesn’t by any means avoid the old people subject matter. On the contrary, Venus even has O’Toole getting a prostate exam. Apparently, there are more awkward doctor’s visits than making polite conversation while a dental assistant has her or his hands in your mouth — try doing it with their hands in another region of your anatomy.
The beauty of Venus lies in the fact that the brilliant casting of O’Toole sheds light on the stud within the sagging skin and brittle bones. The audience sees a guy feeling odd in his body in his later years and how ridiculous life as an “old man” can be. He’s not quite fighting against it, but he’s not quite submitting to it, either. In fact, the movie opens with O’Toole and Phillips trading pills with each other, in their own The Price Is Right sort of drug deal. And when he finishes playing a corpse in a scene for an acting gig, he whips out a ciggy while still in the hospital bed.
It’s a jolly good time watching O’Toole continue to make mischief of epic proportions. Never one to settle for a quiet, humdrum existence, Venus exhibits a subtle but hilarious take on the partying movie star/serious actor’s existence as he fades through his golden years.