A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this poignant British drama is for older adults and will hold little appeal for teens or even young adults. The themes are mature and require an adult perspective to appreciate it. As far as content goes, well, that's pretty mature, too. An elderly man croons lasciviously at a much younger woman who trades sexual favors for material gains, allowing him to kiss her neck, feel her breasts, and talk dirty to her. There's nonstop drinking, pill popping, semi-nudity, ubiquitous profanity ("c--t," "f--k"), and a painful discussion about the fact that the young woman was coerced by her mother into having an abortion. There's also a brief, violent fight scene.
What's the story?
Aging thespian Maurice (Peter O'Toole) is a lascivious, cantankerous, elderly Englishman who develops a complicated relationship with the grand-niece of old friend/fellow actor Ian (Leslie Phillips). Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) is 19 years old, provincial, and, at least initially, rude and selfish. Maurice waffles between wanting to expose her to culture and satisfying the awakening sexual feelings he has for her. After a trip to the National Gallery -- where they see Diego Velazquez's painting Venus at Her Mirror, Maurice calls Jessie his Venus and explains that the female body is the ultimate desire for men. Jessie uses their growing intimacy for power and material items -- but his growing admiration begins to change her character, too. Their relationship changes, but slowly, with two steps forward and one step back.
Is it any good?
Venus is a small-scale English production that's full of both reflective moments and witty, rapid-fire dialogue about mortality, the old days, and life's perpetual ambitions. O'Toole gives a powerful performance, his character gripped by the realization that his life is in its final chapter. Ultimately, Jessie makes some important positive changes in her life, her self-opinion, and her feelings about her older friend. But teens may not grasp the messages of self-discovery, and some may interpret it as "just" a movie about a dirty old man's fling with a youngster.
Venus has many merits and shouldn't be dismissed. It's a marvelous showcase for O'Toole, with stunning close-ups, perfect timing, and physical comedy that's as good as it gets. The depth, emotion, desperation, and affection of these moments are palpable and make it obvious that these performers are the masters of their craft. But no matter how much applause Venus earns for finally sexualizing an elderly character, having that sexuality focused on someone so young is awkward for any viewer, and even more so for teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Peter O'Toole's character, Maurice, and his interest in a much younger woman. Is the attraction based on proximity, his desire for one last hurrah, or real love? This is a far cry from how senior characters are typically portrayed in the media; is it difficult to see a man this age being sexual? What does Maurice offer Jessie to make her change how she feels about him -- and herself? What lessons does she teach him? Parents can also expand on the film's references to Shakespeare and Diego Velazquez's painting of Venus.
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