CASANOVA


Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Oliver Platt
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher
Distributor: Lasse Hallstrom (US 2005)
Run Time: 108 minutes
Rating: R for some sexual content

WHO:
Mixed Reviewers Jill Cozzi and Gabriel Shanks
WHAT:
A meeting-of-the-minds about a new release.
HOW:
Bad chain restaurant food
WHERE:
Applebee's at the AMC theatre on 42nd Street

GABRIEL: All right...so here we are, at the deee-luxe Applebee's in New York City, and we've just seen CASANOVA.

JILL:Otherwise known as the OTHER Heath Ledger movie.

GABRIEL: The vastly inferior Heath Ledger movie.

JILL: A comedy that is probably the biggest waste of brocade that I've seen since The Man in the Iron Mask.

GABRIEL: What do you think they were trying to do? The Casanova myth…it's a rich story. A battle of the sexes, how men and women relate...

JILL: I'm not sure that's what they were trying to do here. I think that this was Lasse Hallstrom tryiing to be adorable again, the way he was with Chocolat.

GABRIEL: It certainly has the stench of Chocolat all over it.

JILL: I'd be interested in finding out when Heath Ledger contracted to do this movie versus when he contracted to do Brokeback Mountain.

GABRIEL: Do you think it matters?

JILL: Yeah, I do. I think this is the kind of crap that he was cranking out before Brokeback came along.

GABRIEL: Certainly, once you see what he's able to do [in Brokeback Mountain], that he is an actor of serious ability, then it's very hard to accept him phoning it in the way he seems to be in this performance. There's a whole lot of supporting players in the film who are making the most of what they've got: Oliver Platt....Jeremy Irons....Lena Olin. Heath Ledger's not doing that. He's not working overtime to make the thin premise work.

JILL: Well, he has actually a pretty thin role here.

GABRIEL: The idea of Casanova is not thin.

JILL: No, but they have made it thin here. Here they have made Casanova into a cute boy, which is why it feels like just another standard Heath Ledger vehicle -- look, we have this cute blond boy with this very deep voice…

GABRIEL: But beyond cute and blond, the film never shows you why he's so irresistible. What is it that makes women literally stop in their tracks and start panting in the street? And because they never make you understand that, it's laughable the way the women kind of lose their cotton pickin' minds.

JILL: It's more than laughable, it's also dare I say that it's really offensive, because if you've ever seen a movie that's terrified of women, it's this one.

GABRIEL: But don't you think that, say, Johnny Depp could have done something here that Heath Ledger isn't doing?

JILL: : Well, I haven't seen it, but apparently he did, and it's called The Libertine.

GABRIEL: No, no, no. The sexual politics of this movie are very regressive. Almost offensive, but they just want you to laugh at how frivolous it is. I find it very hard to find misogyny funny.

JILL:I don't think it's something that can be played well as comedy. That's why I said that within the first fifteen minutes, I was thinking, "I've seen this movie before; it was called Dangerous Beauty, it also dealt with sexual politics, it also had Oliver Platt in it, which is why I was asking you when Oliver Platt makes his appearance even though I didn't know he was in this movie. Because Oliver Platt is ALWAYS in this movie. And Dangerous Beauty dealt with this material a lot better.

GABRIEL: : What did it do better, in terms of sexual politics?

JILL: Well, for one thing, it wasn't played for laughs. If anything, it was played seriously. But it was better-scripted, I think it had better acting; certainly Catherine McCormack gave HER Venetian feminist a gravitas that this little girl, and Sienna Miller IS a little girl, just doesn't have. And I think if you're going to deal with something as important as sexual politics, you can't play it for laughs. And there's something here to offend just about everybody.

GABRIEL: Yet the audience we saw it with wasn't offended in the least.

JILL: You're right. We sat in an audience that obviously loved this movie.

GABRIEL: I think the film in the first five minutes very clearly asks the audience to check their conscience at the door and just ride with how silly and how over-the-top it is. It's similar to -- Jeffrey Hatcher is one of the screenwriters, and his film last year, Stage Beauty, asked the audience to do the same thing – it almost begs, “don't think about it too deeply.” It's got a very unbelievable proto-feminist lead character played by Sienna Miller -- God knows what Jude Law sees in her.

JILL: Are you being facetious?.

GABRIEL: I don't get Sienna Miller at all.

JILL: Well, she's very pretty. I don't know that you boink the babysitter when you've got her at home. I don't know if she's an actress, but she looks nice.

GABRIEL: : I don't know, I didn't get it. But Miller is this very unbelievable feminist character, and it's got an unbelievable lothario -- a Don Juan that you don't believe -- and so all you've got is this kind of lampooning of Renaissance mores. You've got Oliver Platt doing fat jokes, you've got countless women acting like idiots, you've got the vicious scenery-chewing villain in Jeremy Irons --

JILL:...who is in the Oliver Platt role this time.

GABRIEL: Irons, to his credit, goes for the gusto. He's very over-the-top. But halfway through you look up and realize that -- there's no movie here. There's nothing really to hold onto.

JILL: There's no movie, there's no plot. There's an attempt to kind of tie things together at the end because they don't know what else to do with them.

GABRIEL: But it's based on a series of ludicrous premises.

JILL: I'm baffled as to why this is a December release, because this movie has February written all over it.

GABRIEL: It wasn't that long ago that this was considered an Oscar contender.

JILL: Are you serious?

GABRIEL: I think your Chocolat theory is true, that people thought people might buy it as a light period comedy.

JILL: Well, I know that Lasse Hallstrom tends to lob his little movie bombs into the end of December, and sometimes they catch and sometimes they don't. And he always manages to pull in a good cast. You can never fault his casting. But in Chocolat and in this, he's so enamored of his own quaintness, and he is just not Scottish enough to be this twee. Quirky yes, but he's starting to go over into this adorableness that only the Scots know how to do right.

GABRIEL: : I think Lasse Hallstrom is Hollywood's most overrated director. But I'm not sure that he's the problem here. I think his screenwriters don't know what they want to do with this story. It feels very uninspired. I mean, Venice is just beautiful, but they let the city and the canals do all the work in terms of captivating you. And it all somehow wraps up by being the Pope's birthday --

JILL: : -- and everybody is pardoned. I mean, there isn't even a dramatic escape here.

GABRIEL: My point is that you have these four storylines that are going all over the place, the screenwriters are clearly at a loss as to where to go, and their answer is to come up with this ludicrous premise that it's the Pope's birthday. I ask you: if you are the screenwriter, how do you fix it? What do you do?

JILL: Oh, God. This is why I'm not a screenwriter. I don't know. By that point, there's so much stuff going on, and there's been no character development. We don't know why Casanova is so compelling. We don't know who this girl is, where she comes from, and where she developed this side career as a feminist writer. There's nowhere to go after the first half; you'd have to scrap it and rewrite it from scratch.

GABRIEL: Well, the way the screenwriters address it is by going genre: They do a courtroom scene, they do a carnivale scene, they do a hanging scene -- these kind of stock scenes.

JILL: It's trying to be this mistaken identity 1930's screwball comedy in period dress.

GABRIEL: Well, that was certainly our reaction to it, but to be fair, we have to say that you and I laughed throughout the movie.

JILL: I'm not sure we laughed for the right reasons.

GABRIEL: No. But it is "so bad it's good" -- you realize early on that it's not going to be any good. It's not offensive. You don't feel the urge to storm out of the theatre in a huff. It's just kind of terrible, and you know it's terrible, so you begin to laugh at how terrible it is.

JILL: Well, that's your and my reaction, but I don't think that's what the rest of this audience was reacting to.

GABRIEL: They applauded at the end.

JILL:I know.

GABRIEL: Do you think they applauded because they want to buy into the idea of idealized romance?

JILL:: I don't know; I think that what they're reacting to is pretty people in nice costumes. The movie has maybe two or three good yuks in it, and it makes them laugh, and that's enough. I would hate to think that this movie makes money, because it doesn't deserve to.

GABRIEL: One of the things that struck me as I was watching it was that this is a movie about the world's greatest lover, and there's no sex in the movie. How do you do that? You couldn't make a movie about the world's greatest war general and never go to war.

JILL: At the same time as they've chosen this highly political subject, because with Casanova you already have enough story there, you don't need this feminist writer. But they toss this feminist in there to make it relevant. And then there's no self-determination in this for her anyway. She goes off with the cute guy, and --

GABRIEL :She's a feminist only insofar as it serves the plot. And then when that's no longer needed, she kind of just lets it go.

JILL:I sensed that this was the Renaissance as Richard Lester might have directed it in 1965 after finishing Help!. You know, with the chase scenes, and the frenetic --

GABRIEL: Well, let's talk about her in specific. [PLOT SPOILER AHEAD] He decides to go to jail for her. But this is a woman who, if she follows her politics, would WANT him to go to jail. Especially since he just told a massive lie to her and was exposed in the --oh, we haven't even talked about the balloon ride across Venice yet....in the vagina-shaped balloon.

JILL: And the worst use of a green screen this season.

GABRIEL: Yes...makes you appreciate King Kong in a whole new way.

JILL: Yes, it certainly does.

GABRIEL: Shall we talk about the performances? There are some actors who are working overtime in this film.

JILL: Well, there are a lot of actors working overtime. The one I always feel badly for is Oliver Platt, who I think is a brilliant character actor and he deserves better than to always be the fat joke. I don't know if you saw The Ice Harvest, which was a pretty horrible movie and died a well-deserved early death. But there's a scene in that movie where Oliver Platt does this speech about being a 40-year-old guy and is that all they have, and he's still boorish, and he's still the fat guy, but there's something very human and very poignant about it. But here he's just a walking fat joke, and he deserves better than this

GABRIEL: He's a big guy, but they put him in a fat suit -- he wasn't fat ENOUGH, I guess. I think he's probably the best thing in the film, because he kind of commits to the lunacy of it.

JILL: Yes.

GABRIEL: : And I'd say that the second best thing in the film is Jeremy Irons, who similarly commits to it being this kind of over-the-top, scenery-chewing extravaganza.

JILL: At this point in his career, I think Jeremy Irons is probably better when he's chewing the scenery and being a really colorful villain, than when he tries to do anything else, because he's a dour presence.

GABRIEL: Don't you love the way he'd snarl and say "GiaKomo Kasanova!"...all those hard K's and...

JILL: He's turned into a great, great villain. The last serious Jeremy Irons movie I saw was Damage, and you want to talk about an actor who can suck the life out of a room...when he's not doing this.

GABRIEL:: Did you see The Merchant of Venice last year?

JILL: No.

GABRIEL: Same role, a more serious version.

JILL: But I think he's better when he's doing comedy.

GABRIEL: Well, he certainly knows what's required of him in this movie. You know, I think the most nuanced work in the film is coming from Lena Olin, who has to make some really unsupported character turns and pulls them off with a real grace and dexterity.

Well, we're dancing around Heath Ledger, so --

JILL: So now's the point where we get to Heath Ledger, and we segue into the movie we REALLY want to talk about.

GABRIEL: Brokeback Mountain.

JILL: Which is kind of the 800-pound gorilla that's sitting over this movie.

GABRIEL: Well, I couldn't escape Brokeback while watching CASANOVA. That’s true.

JILL: To see this movie -- CASANOVA -- is to understand why Heath Ledger has had no career up until this point for all that he's very attractive and he has this lovely, deep speaking voice. But what's there to say? He's very cute, he smirks, he swashbuckles, he looks nice in a poet shirt, he has cute dimples -- but it's a Heath Ledger cute boy role.

GABRIE : It's a lazy performance. It is almost inert in how little it does. I'm very disappointed, because I think his performance in Brokeback is one of the best of the year. But for him to not be able to find it within himself to make something of this, is really damaging. Prior to Brokeback Mountain, I never thought he was much of an actor. Now I realize that it's simply because he doesn't try very hard. He's got the ability to be one of our great young actors, and he is not doing so.

JILL: That's why I want to know when this was made.

GABRIEL: It was made right after Brokeback, I know that.

JILL: So he wrapped Brokeback and then did this.

GABRIEL: Yes. I read some interview where he said how freeing it was to do CASANOVA after being so deep into Brokeback.

JILL: That's really sad. That's really sad as far as his career is concerned, that he went right back to doing the same shit that he'd been doing.

GABRIEL: Well, I'm sure there was a need for safety, I mean “gay cowboys” is a risky move, and he wanted something that said "No, I really like girls," and CASANOVA is it.

JILL: I don't know if it was yesterday's Times Metro section of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section, but I took it upstairs and said to Steve, "Best. Juxtaposition. Of. Full-Page. Movie. Ads. Ever" -- because it had the full-page ad for Brokeback Mountain on one side and the full-page ad for CASANOVA on the other side. And that segues nicely into the question of the impact of Brokeback Mountain on Heath Ledger's career. I mean, do you really need to prove that hard that you're heterosexual that you'll do a piece of crap like this after you've done work that as far as I'm concerned no one has beaten this year? That is a clear-your-shelf-now performance, followed by something that could kill him in the awards race. And frankly, I think this movie is going to hurt him when awards season comes around

GABRIEL: : I agree with you to some extent, but I also think that it makes it very easy. People now know which performance to vote for.


Review text copyright © 2005 Gabriel Shanks, Jill Cozzi and Mixed Reviews. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Mixed Reviews or the author is prohibited.

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