It might seem like it’s about cradle robbers and catheters, but Venus is being touted as another chance for actor Peter O’Toole to finally win an Oscar. The film follows elderly semi-famous actors Maurice (O’Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips), whose lives of dreary routine get turned upside down by Ian’s teenaged great-niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Sent to act as a nurse for her great-uncle, Jessie quickly becomes an unwelcome house guest in Ian’s apartment, as she drinks all his liquor and eats all his food. The girl, on the other hand, immediately intrigues Maurice. Eventually, this leads to a twisted relationship involving Jessie trading gropes for expensive gifts. When Ian discovers what is going on, a rift tears between the two old friends.
Perhaps the most interesting performance comes from newcomer Jodie Whittaker, who is eventually likened to the film’s titular Roman godess. Despite her less-than-classy actions throughout the film, there is an inner beauty to Jessie that Maurice helps her to see. By the end of the film, there is a sense that Whittaker’s character gains a new respect for herself and others from her time spent with Maurice. The difference in age between the two characters makes for an interesting dynamic, as each have differing views on what having a good time is, and what knowledge is relevant. Maurice, who had become obsessed with educating Jessie, ultimately discovers that he has much to learn about himself.
Since O’Toole has been in the business of acting on screen for over half a century, it’s not particularly surprising that film critics everywhere are speculating on whether or not he’ll finally win an Oscar. Although he received an honourary Academy Award in 2003 for his body of work and contribution to film, O’Toole has yet to capture one for best actor, despite seven nominations. This makes him one of the very few actors to have been nominated more than five times without winning.
While the film is certainly worth seeing, it probably isn’t any more Oscar-worthy than O’Toole’s previous performances. Although amusing at times, his character comes off as being creepier and more perverted than is necessary for the desired audience reaction. Throughout the film, Maurice is constantly trying to steal looks of Jessie in the nude, or touching her shoulders and smelling her neck. While this is meant to come off as an endearing moment of Maurice’s appreciation for beauty and Jessie’s childish and conniving ways of getting what she wants, it just comes off as full-on pedophilic.
Compared to his past roles, the only reason to give O’Toole an Oscar for this film would be out of pity for previous losses. Fortunately for O’Toole, the Academy Awards have degenerated into such absurdity that they may just give him the Oscar out of a sense of debt, rather than the foreign concept of doing a better job than anyone else.