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Maurice (Peter O'Toole) is an elderly thespian, bumming around acting gigs and London with his friend, Ian (Leslie Phillips). When Ian's young relative, Jesse (Jodie Whitaker), stops by to live with him for a spell, Maurice is immediately taken with her, falling into lust with her youth and unvarnished beauty. Lavishing the dim-witted young girl with gifts and attention, Maurice and Jesse strike up a superficial bond. When that connection turns into manipulation, Maurice is caught between feeding his own desire and giving his last breath to this fruitless crush.
"Venus" stars Peter O' Toole, which is the sole reason why this picture gets away with such a massive amount of uncomfortable sexuality and borderline perversion. "Venus" isn't O'Toole's finest hour as an actor, but it is a vivid seizing of autumnal ache and loss of senses. It's tough to tell where the elderly O'Toole ends and Maurice begins, but I'll err on the side of the actor's razor-sharp skill at transforming himself into a wispy horndog.
It's a performance of senile discontent, frailty, and corporeal acceptance, with O'Toole hitting all the sure notes. He even restrains Maurice's lascivious ways to an acceptable distance for a great deal of the story. The picture finds Maurice romantic and classical in intention, but there's little reason to beat around the bush here: some moments of Maurice's breast-squeezing come-ons might unleash a case of the icks. It's to O'Toole's credit and ability that the film doesn't ultimately slither off the screen.
Perhaps because "Venus" is about the ravages of old age is why the story tends to veer off in an erratic fashion. The film captures a cheeky balance between comedy and sex-tweaked psychodrama, but closing moments seem to slip away from Michell's control, and the enterprise loses its personality and focus in a big way. As Jesse takes more advantage of Maurice, it's hard to understand the mood of dread that fills the air, especially when Maurice seems to drink up every last of her insistences with delight. Michell can't nail a tone, and "Venus" careens to an obvious ending, instead of dreamily floating to a satisfying one.
"Venus" is a difficult picture to recommend due to the iffy subject matter. Yet, it's really nothing a post-film slathering of Purell and O'Toole's sociable, wild-eyed performance can't fix.