When a waitress who regularly serves Peter O’Toole’s character sees a picture of him in his youth, she exclaims, “God. He was good-looking.” It’s hard to believe for those who see him every day. But it seems impossible for the old man, Maurice, to forget because his youth may have fled but much of his vitality remains.
Maurice has lived a life reminiscent of the actor who plays him (though I don’t know O'Toole well enough to say if they resemble each other in old age). Though famous in his day, Maurice still earns acting gigs by trading on his earlier career and still-sharp wits. An unabashed hedonist in his younger years, pleasure remains a primary concern for Maurice in his later years. Maurice and his pal Ian (Leslie Phillips) spend Venus’ early minutes swapping pills and getting loopy together, taking in the theater and washing down their meds with liquor. In their 70s, at least, they still have a bit of the rock star mentality, partying like they’re unafraid to die because death seems inevitable rather than, as in their youths, impossible.
Into this fusion of Dumb and Dumber with Grumpy Old Men waltzes Jessie, a petulant young woman from the countryside who crashes at her great uncle Ian’s house while chugging booze, snacking and putatively looking for work. Maurice can hardly believe his good fortune and begins courting her as though he wasn’t facing the imminent removal of his prostate.
Jessie, nicknamed Venus by Maurice, gets closer to the old man by fits and starts but never allows herself to accept his joint-creaking advances. Instead, when he draws near she lashes out. Eventually, both characters must change their ways and the humor drifts out of the script in favor of genuine, if sometimes mawkish, sentimentality. The latter is borne out in the film’s teen-power soundtrack—bright pop melodies and strong female vocals more appropriate for Bridget Jones’ return than O’Toole’s swan song.
Still, Venus succeeds on the strength of O’Toole’s continued vitality—not the sort that wins aging actors an Oscar (he was nominated for Best Actor), but the type that might make someone wonder why O’Toole didn’t win any of the other seven times he had a shot.