Leaning a little extra heavily on the Shakespeare in Love button, Lasse Hallstrom's Casanova is a slight, silly, and entirely frothy little confection ... but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find some really entertaining stuff littered throughout its weirdness. It's an arthouse farce, played with obvious affection for mistaken identities, temporarily unrequited loves, and a charming little wink at the audience, as if to say ... take none of this too seriously and you'll earn an eyeful of Venice, a handful of laughs, and a predictably sweet finalé.
Starring Heath Ledger as the legendary lothario, Casanova focuses on our hero's court-imposed "maturity" period, a time when he was compelled to stop bedding fair maidens and settle down with a suitable wife ... or be banished from Venice forever. But in a city packed to the canals with feminine perfection, where's Cas going to find #1? Could it be the alabaster virgin from across the way? Or perhaps it's the willful spitfire who fights for female equality?
And, of course, there are the requisite road-blocks and potholes: the alabaster virgin is being pursued by the willful girl's wimpy brother ... and he's trying to help his sister prepare for marriage to a portly sausage tycoon who's due for a visit any day now. And the prince is mad at Casanova, the virgin's dad is casting suspicious glances everywhere, the lardy lord proves to be goofier than previously anticipated -- oh, and here comes the Spanish Inquisition, and they're hungry for our hero's head.
It's all very vibrant and fast-paced and fluffy, which is precisely what one might expect from Lasse Hallstrom, the director of Chocolat, and it's the ebullient sort of eccentric energy that keeps Casanova flowing. True, the flick derails quite noticeably on more than one occasion (some of the banter is belabored and one particular sex gag is stolen right out of American Pie -- and they stole it from Police Academy!), but the good points more than balance the bad.
As the titular loverboy, Heath Ledger is all smooth charm and witty quips. Supporting cast standouts include Oliver Platt as a supremely rotund fiancee, Lena Olin as an ever-scheming matriarch, and (of course) Jeremy Irons as one of the most broadly sniveling villains this side of Snidely Whiplash.
Casanova might look a lot like Amadeus but it feels a lot more like a goofy stage farce. We jump from doe-eyed romance to ribald chuckles to swashbuckling action -- and very little of it makes a lick of sense to a logical mind (and I highly doubt that much of this is based on actual history), but it's still a big juicy wedding cake of a movie. Call it an arthouse guilty pleasure if you like, but Casanova is a visually stunning, slyly amusing, and sweetly enjoyable little period-piece of a comedy. Frankly I enjoyed it a whole lot more than I expected to.
Video: The movie is presented in a ravishingly pretty anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) format. No lie, it's a really good-looking flick.
Audio: DTS 5.1 Digital Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or French/Spanish 2.0, with optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) contributes a solo audio commentary, which is a pretty low-key, dry, and friendly affair. I can't imagine that any but the most passionate Casanova fans will care to sample the whole chat-track, but it's nice to have the option all the same.
Creating an Adventure (12:52) is your standard on-the-set featurette, complete with interview segments from director Lasse Hallstrom, screenwriters Jeffrey Hatcher & Kimberly Simi, and leads Heath Ledger & Sienna Miller. Of interest mainly to learn how hard it is to shoot a film in Venice, but that's about it.
Dressing in Style (5:20) focuses on the (rather amazing) costume designs by Jenny Beavan.
Also included: one extended scene (5:36) entitled "Hidden in Plain Sight" and a fairly cool Visions of Venice (3:51) featurette, which takes us to a few famous spots while the Casanova producers try to describe the sights. ("The building was, like, so old...")
Rounding out the platter is a trailer bin hyping Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Annapolis, Shopgirl, Goal! The Dream Begins, An Unfinished Life, Shadows in the Sun, Everything You Want, Grey's Anatomy, Soapnet, and "TV on DVD.
Generally ignored (or outright dismissed) upon its theatrical release, Casanova might not be a great film, but it's fast-paced, funny, and exceedingly pleasurable to the eyes. Color me surprised, but it's a pretty good time!