Lately, I've been enjoying movies about interesting characters interacting with other interesting characters in very simple stories. I use to be all about the action and visuals and more action, and to a certain extent, I still like that. However, now, I sometimes just want to watch people and not super people. I don't know. Maybe, I'm burned out on CGI. Maybe, I just don't get an upper from rapid editing anymore. Maybe, I'm getting older.
I saw two movies recently with interesting characters in simple stories. They were Venus and The Mother. Both of them were written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell.
I saw Venus at a screening that I dragged my feet to and was pleasantly surprised. It stars Peter O'Toole as a 70 year old actor who falls in love with a twenty year old girl who is living with a friend of his. The girl is the daughter of his friend's niece. When I say ‘falls in love', I mean it in both a romantic comedy kind of way and as a strange obsessive attraction fraught with power plays and manipulation. Then again, love is never easy.
O'Toole looks like a walking corpse which is appropriate since most of the parts his character gets are corpses in hospital scenes. Still, O'Toole has charisma and star quality and those bright blue eyes that you just want to dive into. Even with his wheezing breath and slow walk, he makes old age sexy. I want to be in his nursing home.
The girl, played by Jodie Whittaker, is delightfully skanky in her velour track suits and low riding jeans. She eats junk food and drinks Bacardi Breezes like a pro and is a total equal to the old fart. She knows he likes her, and she likes him, but it's all sooo complex.
There is also an older woman, the actor's ex-wife, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Whenever she comes on the screen, I felt that not only O'Toole's character but myself as a viewer was home. When the ex-wife meets the girl at the end, the result of that meeting is so right that the film has to end that way.
Many little moments happen in this film, but what I took away from Venus was this relationship with all its twists and turns and how much I enjoyed watching it.
After the screening, there was a Q&A with Hanif Kureishi who talked about writing the film as well as collaborating again with Roger Michell. They had collaborated on a film called The Mother about an older woman who has an affair with a younger man. Daniel Craig, who had acted the shit out of James Bond (that's a compliment), was in it too, so up to the top of my Netflix list it went.
The Mother is not just about an older woman (sixty-something) and a younger guy (thirty-something) as the movie poster might suggest. It's about a family chuck full of characters ready to explode with all the energy of a Greek tragedy. Like Venus, it is not just about romantic love. It is also about the power plays and manipulation that happen when relationships get messy.
The set up is simple. An older couple visit their grown children in London. Their son seems very successful with a big house, pretty wife, and kids running around. They are even building a solarium on the back of the house. The daughter is divorced with a son and living in a basement apartment not far away.
While staying with the son, the father has a heart attack and dies. The mother is afraid she will die if she stays at her own house, so she moves in with her children in London. She shuttles back and forth between her daughter and her son as she tries to find herself. She befriends her son's solarium builder who is dating her daughter. Before you can say ‘ooops!', the mother and the builder are under the quilt up in the spare bedroom.
Meanwhile, the mother and daughter are trying to work out their shared history. The daughter feels the mother was unaffectionate to her as a child, so that's why her life is messed up. The mother was unhappy as a mother even though that's what you did in those days---stayed home, raised the kids, supported husband.
Like Venus, this film does not explode with blood spattering CGI and grand gestures, but the ending feels right. The characters will continue on. Some of them will be changed. Some of them won't be. It's just people, you know. People who are watched by other people in a dark movie theatre. Okay, I'm not gonna sing like Streisand.