In Casanova’s favor are a list of names: Lasse Hallstrom directs; Heath ledger stars; Oliver Platt supports; Jeremy Irons plays a villain. The names, plus a couple of favorable blurbs from some trade publications got my hopes up that it would be a fun farce.
And indeed, one of the movie’s strongest suits is that it looks like everyone on screen is having a good time. In the right audience (perhaps at DIFF, with a red carpet, $25 tickets, and an after-movie party), Casanova could be a lot of fun.
But Casanova is a one-night-stand, and in the morning light, beauty fades to regret.
Come and Knock on Our Door
R for sexual content
Heath Ledger plays the title character. His reputation in Venice is so well known that even street performers and puppeteers use him for material. But the real man has been nearly arrested several times for indecency and lewdness, and if he wants to maintain his noble position in Venice, he will have to settle down and take a wife.
He chooses his holy vision, a woman as white and pure as the Virgin Mother (blech!): Victoria D’amato (Natalie Dormer). But we know that she’s hardly a match for Casanova. Just looking at him, she quivers with muscle spasms strong enough to break wooden cages and railings. She’s hardly in his league.
A more fitting wife would be Francesca (Sienna Miller), who writes feminist literature under the pen name “Guardi.” But Casanova hasn’t met her yet, and besides, Francesca’s mother has already betrothed her to the lard merchant Papprizzio (Oliver Platt, a respectable actor who is mercilessly abused in this role, poor guy).
How, oh how, will it all work out?
Those of us who grew up with Three’s Company reruns will not be surprised.
She Melts Like Butter
The above could certainly could be an entertaining farce. But somehow the tone of the film never quite clicks. It’s clear that the movie is supposed to be “fun,” but the harpsichord-heavy score does most of the work, as though to compensate for whatever spark is missing from the film. In spite of some great costumes and wonderful sets, it’s hard to know exactly how seriously or lightly to take the movie.
It turns out that nothing in the movie is more serious than a sitcom. There is almost a serious moment when Casanova and Francesca argue about love — whether it means a lifetime’s commitment, or whether the word can also apply to a single, perfect night. She holds that Casanova (he’s using a pseudonym at this point and she doesn’t realize its’s him) embodies what is wrong with men’s attitudes toward women, and she has a point.
But before we can take their discussion seriously, we learn that she melts like butter when a man actually asks for her opinion.
Nutritious as Lard
There are some bright spots: Jeremy Irons and Oliver Platt both make outstanding entrances. The former, a bishop, blusters in to seize moral control over Venice. The latter, flush-faced, and dressed and photographed to accentuate his mass, arrives on his own private barge.
But again, it’s not long before you realize there is no substance, only sitcom humor to each one’s character. Irons might as well be playing Scar from the Lion King, while Platt gets slathered with lard jokes.
Casanova may be an entertaining bit of fluff, particularly in the right audience. But all that sets it apart from your average sitcom are the A-list casting, the impressive costuming and the two-hour running time.