A rakish old British actor goes through his final acts in life in Venus, and touches a young girl. Or at least wants to touch her. In more ways than one. Know what I mean, know what I mean? Say no more! Wink-wink, nudge-nudge!
Maybe someday Vince Vaughn or Adam Sandler will get Oscar buzz for their late-in-life portrayal of a doddering old coot. But this year it's Peter O'Toole, survivor of a great generation of UK actors that include late drinking buddies Richard Burton and Richard Harris. The onetime Lawrence of Arabia is weathered and broadened out but not too much more decrepit than necessary. Here he plays Maurice, a moderately famous player of stage and screen, in his twilight years in London. Amicably separated from his long-betrayed wife (Vanessa Redgrave), Maurice lives modestly, taking cash payoffs for constant small roles in movies and TV, and accepts with good humor the grim prostate-cancer prognosis from his
Maurice is more interested in the fact that another geriatric acting buddy, Ian (Leslie Phillips) is going to take in a young ward, in the shape of a teenage niece, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), a problem kid cast out by her own mum.
The girl is a rough, unsophisticated, low self-esteem sort, easily misused by lustful boys. Maurice takes her under his wing, insists on calling her `Venus’ after a famous painted nude, and tries to introduce Jessie to the finer things in life. But is the bloke being a caring mentor, or just an ailing, dirty old poltroon, nostalgic for his behind-the-scenes love affairs and hungry for one last carnal thrill? Maybe a bit of both.
If off-the-rack senior plots like Venus didn't already exist, it would be necessary to invent them. Much as moviedom is (and probably ever shall be) obsessed with youth, there is a place for these type of bittersweet sunset comedy-dramas that showcase the elder thespians, stars from the Golden Age, now wrinkled golden-agers themselves, youthful charisma preserved forever, poignantly, on celluloid, in contrast with their liver-spotted and too-human flesh (a still portrait and an audio clip of The Ruling Class are all we are allocated to remind us of O’Toole in his prime). Rendered in realistic, understated UK kitchen-sink fashion (as opposed to a Hollywood thing like Grumpy Old Men II), Venus may be death-haunted, formulaic and, outside of the talent involved, a rather unexceptional downer… BUT if it comes down between a tribute like this, and Peter O’Toole reduced to Alfred the Butler in a Batman fantasy, then bring on the good ship Venus.
Extra points for not having a closing theme performed by Banarama.