Film Reviews: Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Casanova
Starring Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi. Rated R.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
He’s Not Gay Here

L is for Ledger, ladies, and Lasse Hallström, but Casanova isn’t lascivious enough.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Sometimes, irony comes so easy it might as well be printed in block letters that kids can read. At the same time that he’s winning the best reviews of his career in Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger hits the screen again in the title role of Casanova. This may well be a case of a major studio (Touchstone) rushing a film into theaters because the leading man’s career has suddenly become red-hot. It’s just happenstance that we have a chance to see Ledger simultaneously play both a tormented gay man and one of history’s most blissfully straight dudes. Go ahead. Get a good whiff of the irony and savor it. It’ll unfortunately be more fun than the denatured farce that is the actual movie.

This is at least the 10th major film about Giacomo Casanova, and if there’s a more sexless one out there, I’m sure I don’t want to see it. (Don’t be suckered by the R rating. Nobody gets naked, and the only sex scene of any length is a dinner-table masturbation scene that’s a near-exact copy of a bit that was funnier in Wedding Crashers.) Ledger plays the 18th-century Italian count as a young adventurer traipsing about Venice looking to get laid any way he can. Most of the movie isn’t about that, however — damn! — but rather about Casanova falling in love with Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), a beautiful and high-spirited girl who just moved in across the street with her family. She wins him over by engaging him in philosophical debates about love, frequently citing the protofeminist writings of a scholar named Bernardo Guardi, which turns out to be the pen name for Francesca herself.

The movie strains for the comedic hijinks of a Mozart opera, with an intricate plot that involves a plethora of mistaken and assumed identities that befuddle Francesca’s obese fiancé (Oliver Platt) and hard-headed mother (Lena Olin), as well as Casanova’s lusty fiancée (Natalie Dormer) and accommodating servant (Omid Djalili), all of whom wind up on the run from a rather toothless papal inquisitor (Jeremy Irons) who wants to purge Venice of sin. This material calls for a director who can bring some effervescence to the table, and Lasse Hallström gives an honest effort, but he’s just too phlegmatic to pull it off. Neither the slapstick nor the dialogue served up by writers Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi generates any real laughs, so for all the movie’s busy activity, it never takes flight. On top of that, Hallström films Venice in the same postcard-pretty way as a hundred previous movie directors. Left with one- or two-dimensional characters to play, the actors all have fleeting moments of creativity, but none of them has enough comic skills to pump some air into this thing. Everyone connected with Casanova seems desperate to please, but that’s precisely why this period piece lands with such a thud.


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