Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for nudity and language
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Peter O’Toole crafts a May-December “romance” with geriatric fervor and large dollop of self-effacing humor.
O’Toole is fading British soap star Maurice, weary of his staid existence and open to last-chapter adventure. He pals around with persnickety crony Ian (Leslie Phillips) through whom he meets 19-year old niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), a cheeky commoner whose presence is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
A late-life crisis rears its ugly head as O’Toole confronts the fact that he doesn’t really know himself. And hopes to discover more a la the companionship of Jessie, who sullenly accepts his charity in the form of meals and shopping sprees but spurns his more lecherous advances.
Maurice taking sticky prurient pleasure in the company of a trashy brat isn’t the film’s strongest suit. The vast age difference and Jessie’s sulky attitude – I couldn’t warm to her -- make for an unseemly fit, the result of poor casting or thespian inexperience on Whittaker’s part.
It’s O’Toole’s spot-on performance – vulnerable and oddly dignified – that’s the real hook of Roger Michell’s reverse-take on his 2003 “The Mother” in which bad-boy Daniel Craig bedded a defenseless widow thirty years his senior.
Perhaps O’Toole’s crush is a delusion, blind-eye absolution in the face of failing health and regret. His performance is alternately funny and heartbreaking and certainly deserving of awards recognition. Vanessa Redgrave gives solid support as Maurice’s ex-wife with whom he shares a mature and mutual understanding.
O’Toole’s charisma has waned little since he heated up the silver screen as Lawrence of Arabia though he appears far older than his seventy-four years, doubtless due to years of hard living and an unfortunate face-lift. As a last hurrah “Venus” is a distinguished farewell.