A movie bearing the name “Casanova,” that of the infamous lecher and lover of women, immediately conjures images of lusty love making between beautiful virgins and the swashbuckling hero. But the new film version, which tries to construct itself like a Shakespearean tale of the world’s most renowned romantic finding true love, ends up playing like a boilerplate Hollywood romantic comedy – good for a few laughs, but ultimately insubstantial.
The film, from celebrated Swiss director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”), stars Heath Ledger (“10 Things I Hate About You”) as Casanova, a man constantly in trouble with the law. After a particularly scandalous romp involving a nunnery, Casanova is given an ultimatum by the Doge of Venice (Tim McInnerny, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”): either settle down and find a wife or be exiled from the city. Casanova settles on a young maiden named Victoria (newcomer Natalie Dormer), but soon meets and falls in love with the beautiful Francesca (Sienna Miller, “Layer Cake”). Standing in his way is Francesca’s fiance, Paprizzio (Oliver Platt, “Kinsey”), the lard king of Genoa. With the stage set, the ensuing events – involving trysts, swooning lovers, mistaken identities and some well placed jokes directed toward the Catholic Church – evolve like a hackneyed imitation of a Shakespearean comedy.
As unsurprisingly gorgeous as Venice appears on film, the scenery is complemented by the impeccable costume design that evokes the richness of 18th century Venice. Sadly, that beauty can’t compensate for a shocking lack of plot. Even the most basic elements, such as Casanova’s love for Francesca, are poorly illustrated and lack any semblance of motivation. Working within these constraints, Ledger is well cast in the title role (though more lauded in his other fall release, “Brokeback Mountain”) and there are scene-stealing performances from Platt and the morose Jeremy Irons (“Kingdom of Heaven”).
The film is straightforward with essentially no depth or twists. In fact, the only thing that’s difficult to explain about this film is why it received an R rating. While there are indeed scenes of a man and women in bed together, they are by no means explicit. Maybe the MPAA judged this movie based more upon Casanova’s reputation for debauchery rather than the actual content of the film. In fact, the MPAA’s only justification for the film’s rating is the always amorphous, “some sexual content” label.
For Ledger, whose star isn’t just rising but actually aging into a full-burning Hollywood fixture, movies that hold back as much as he exudes probably aren’t the smartest move. Or, to add, the sexiest.
Rating: 2 and 1/2 stars out of 5
At the Showcase and Quality 16