(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have. Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films. But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to. Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already. I’m a film geek for God’s sake! I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old. I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time. So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see. Enjoy!)
I remember seeing this trailer quite a few times in the theater during the fall of 2005. It seemed like it was really being pushed, but I guess it didn’t do the film any good since it didn’t exactly make a splash at the box office. But I thought it looked like fun. Some reason I missed this one. Not sure why since I have liked most films I’ve seen from Lasse Hallstrom. Not too many talk about him, but he’s made some damn decent movies. None of them are excellent, but they are consistently solid, and that kind of thing should be commended. I enjoyed WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, CHOCOLAT, THE SHIPPING NEWS, AN UNFINISHED LIFE, THE HOAX, DEAR JOHN and SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN. All good flicks. So I was expecting CASANOVA to be in the same ballpark as those.
In this classical period piece, the late Heath Ledger plays Casanova, conqueror of many women. He goes about his day sleeping with various broads while dodging the authorities from being arrested for being indecent. Things get a little mucked up when he has a chance meeting with a rebellious young lady named Francesca (Sienna Miller). Her big secret is that she is a notorious writer, which of course, is forbidden for a woman to do so. Casanova falls for her big time, but since Francesca is a feminist of sorts, she hates everything the gigolo stands for. So the famous lover poses as her suitor she is supposed to marry (whom she has never met) so he can woo her. Things get complicated when her real fiancée shows up, played by Oliver Platt. And just when things couldn’t get worse, a priest working for the Vatican (Jeremy Irons) arrives on the scene searching for both Casanova and the writer that Francesca is posing as, so he may hang them for being heretics.
With the exception of a few very brief (clothed) sex scenes (I’m talking seconds here), this is a very tame movie. One that you could almost show to Grandma. Sure, there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, but it’s all seems so childish and innocent. This is a hard movie not to like. It has a very playful spirit, and an infectiously likable tone. It has all the things an old-fashioned screwball comedy would have. Fiesty lovers, mistaken identity, and constant situations where it seems the protagonists can’t get out of. It’s not rocket science, but it’s immensely entertaining.
Besides being a sex farce, there’s a nice adventure angle to the film as well. Casanova is chased on top of roofs and there’s even a couple of sword fights. None of this is sinister or dark. Just fun and playful. And I liked that very much. I also thought the film has a terrific sense of humor. They’re not the most memorable kind of jokes, but the kind that come quickly so you can let out a brief chuckle, and then onto the next one. It’s very quick-witted. The film is also filled with lively characters, which most of put a smile on my face. They’re all fun to watch.
Which brings me to the acting. Everyone is quite good. Ledger is perfectly cast as Casanova. He’s absolutely believable as the ultimate ladies man, but even though his performance is mostly lighthearted, he has that sort of subtle dramatic weight that he puts behind it all. Sienna Miller isn’t the most charismatic actress in the world, but she’s likable enough. Lena Olin plays her mother and I thought she was a hoot. Oliver Platt also seems to be having a blast as he pokes fun at his weight. The development between Platt and Olin was a joy to watch. Jeremy Irons plays the film’s villain and there’s no way he could’ve fucked this up. Of course, he’s convincing as hell as the man trying to arrest Casanova. Omid Djalili is an actor I’m not familiar with at all, but he steals a few scenes as Casanova’s loyal assistant. I liked they’re relationship with each other.
Hallstrom has certainly created a sharp-looking film. The sets and art direction are great. He keeps things moving at a snappy, zippy pace. It never feels as if it was legging. Which brings me to the film’s flaws. I thought the ending felt just a bit rushed. All of these elements with all of the different characters were coming together, but it felt a bit forced as they tried to tie everything up in a neat little bow. I also thought that some of the green screen work in this was very shoddy, especially when Casanvoa and Francesca were up in that hot air balloon swooning at each other. It was very obvious and distracting. But, Alexandre Desplat uses familiar classical tunes and mixes them up with some of his own themes. It’s a score that fits the time period of the film like a glove.
Flaws aside, this is exactly what I thought this movie was going to be. A fun, lighthearted, energetic (if insignificant) romp that features fine work from Ledger, Platt and Irons. I was grinning for most of the running time. It’s a good time. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for some sexual content. (but it’s so brief it almost seems like it could have gotten away with a PG13.
– Running time: 1hr 51min.
(CASANOVA is available to rent on DVD through Netflix)