Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Omid Djalili, Michelle Williams
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
“Casanova” is absolutely better than I expected. It’s funny, clever, charming, sweet, and just screwball enough to be plausibly zany without being ridiculous. Well, okay, until the third act, where it just goes batshit crazy, but up to that point, the movie is everything that well done romantic comedies should be, and then some. Comparisons to “Shakespeare in Love” are inevitable, and while it isn’t better than that, it’s not exactly trying to be, regardless of the myriad of similar themes.
Heath Ledger plays the title character, the infamous libertine who bedded more damsels than both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons at a time when the Inquisition ruled Europe (the action takes place in Italy), and Casanova’s crimes were punishable by death. After a narrow escape from the Inquisition, Casanova is advised to put on a front that he has reformed, and seeks out Victoria (Natalie Dormer), the renowned virgin of Venice, as his pretend fiancé to be. This greatly offends Giovanni Bruni (Charlie Cox), Victoria’s neighbor and secret admirer, and Giovanni challenges Casanova to a duel. This is where things get tricky.
Casanova assumes an alias in his encounter with Giovanni, and after the duel reaches its conclusion, Casanova meets Giovanni’s sister Francesca (Sienna Miller), who’s betrothed to marry Paprizzio (Oliver Platt), a wealthy lard magnate from Genoa. Francesca is uncommonly smart (she pulls a stunt earlier in the movie that is considered an act of witchcraft), and is impervious to Casanova’s charms, which of course makes her all the more desirable to him. Her mother, Andrea (Lena Olin), however, will not allow her to back out of her arranged marriage – they’re broke, and Paprizzio is loaded – so Casanova, with the help of his servant Lupo (Omid Djalili), pulls a scheme to hide Paprizzio away in his apartment, under the guise that Casanova is Paprizzio. Hilarity ensues, along with a fair share of chaos.
The best example that you will ever find of just how Puritanical we are as a society is the fact that this movie carries an R rating. There is no foul language, and there is no nudity. There is, however, an abundance of adult situations, as they used to call them in the old HBO days. Okay, there’s one brief, non-nude sex scene and an implied blowjob scene, but so what? “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” had a blowjob scene more overt than the one in this movie. Jeez Louise. Let’s not get hysterical here, people.
Ledger’s job here is actually quite simple; he just has to flash that devilish grin. Miller’s job is simple, too; she just has to read her lines in such a way that she comes off as inquisitive and intriguing, but not arrogant. She doesn’t even need to be the most attractive love interest (that job is Dormer’s), so talk about coasting on personality. The supporting characters are the money roles here, where Djalili makes a star turn as Casanova’s servant, and the luscious Dormer is a pitch-perfect blend of virtuosity and billy goat horniness. Jeremy Irons has a little fun as the Grand Pooh Bah inquisitor Pucci, but plays the buffoon before too long. And God love Oliver Platt, whose Paprizzio would normally be a villain, but wisely is spun into something far better than you would expect.
So yeah, that third act: it’s just nutty. How nutty, I unfortunately can’t say without revealing too much, but the whole thing smacks of a rewrite. The jokes are a little easier (read: dumber), and the situations are downright cartoonish. It doesn’t sink the movie the way, say, “War of the Worlds” fell on its sword in its third act, but for a movie that was delivering big time goods, its ending was less than stellar.
Your girlfriend/wife/mistress is going to beg you to go see “Casanova.” And you’ll be really, really glad you went along. Sure, the ending of the movie isn’t “The Usual Suspects,” but the ending of your evening will likely be something out of “Debbie Does Dallas.” Any questions?
The single-disc release of the period comedy "Casanova" is a sad attempt at trying to deliver quality bonus material. Of the three featurettes that appear on the DVD, only one ("Creating an Adventure") is longer than five minutes, while the audio commentary with director Lasse Hallstrom is an absolute borefest. Didn't somebody tell him that he actually needs to talk in order to qualify as a commentary track? Oh, and in case you're really itching for more Heath Ledger, there's an extended scene as well.