Review: “Casanova”

After so many gross out teen comedies its good to see something like “Casanova” hit the screens. A fun little comedy of manners for adults, Lasse Hallstrom’s latest flick dumps his incessant need for slow burn dramatic depression by delivering a film that’s lighter than air and never pretends to be anything more than the shallow, well-mannered sex romp it is.

Overflowing with good performances, quite astonishingly rich production values and a naughty gleam of humour, “Casanova” is like one of those classic “Carry On” style farces of the 70’s but without the nudity and given a proper budget and story to follow. Coming off a superbly understated Oscar-calibre turn in the richly layered but emotionally cool “Brokeback Mountain”, Heath Ledger has picked the perfect follow-up vehicle to counterbalance that stark grim arthouse flick. This is a movie far more mainstream, shallow and upfront about its desires – albeit by design.

Still, despite its lustrous look and fun actors, “Casanova” is let down by its startlingly pedestrian script which plays like a bad imitation of every other Shakespeare play – the whiny prince, the young intellectual woman in a society filled with vapid bimbos, the practically insulting ‘moral lesson’ that all swinging bachelors secretly yearn for settling down, etc. Anyone who’s ever met me knows that I slide my tongue around a double entendre every other sentence, yet here they become repetitive. The lack of memorable laughs and somewhat obvious writing, combined with a few weaker characters such as the lovelorn brother Giovanni (who becomes a key to the film’s utterly expendable framing device) certainly lower the rewatch value and overall memorability.

More importantly most of the gags, despite the sophistication of the rest of the production, are just as crude and obvious as your average “American Pie” and its brethren, whether it be scenes of obese men covered in muesli or Heath getting blown under a crowded table. The result is a film filled with a lot of little laughs, quite a few groans and the odd belly buster. It relies a lot on an audience’s goodwill to follow the unbelievable plot contrivances and multiple character deceptions which we’re happy to do for the most part as its a very easy movie to like.

Ledger proves a solid lead that, whilst its hard to see why women so readily spread their legs for him, proves perfectly suitable for the story. The rogue charm, the slightly camp speech and physical inflections, the occasional moments of serious reflection, the young guy who was being bred several years ago as a ‘movie hunk’ has seriously come into his own as an actor this year and it works. Sienna Miller demonstrates good screen presence as the film’s leading lady, even if the role never really lets her shine.

Oliver Platt as always does a great job with his comedic supporting turns in films, yet this time out he’s relegated to some unfunny and not particularly appealing fat jokes. Same goes for Lena Olin, the beautiful former “Alias” actress stuck playing the doting mother with an absurdly convenient fetish. Its a shame so many of the roles are slight letdowns for these actors, the one notable exception besides Ledger being Jeremy Irons who turns the Vatican Inquisitor foil character into a very droll antagonist who gets the film’s best laugh made at the expense of the Catholic Church.

Like films of all this type, it comes down to a big event towards the end where deceptions are revealed and things begin to get bleak before a high speed chase and perky twist deliver a happy ending. Have I spoiled it? Hardly, this is formulaic to the hilt, but is a great example of why such a formula has stood the test of time. Hallstrom is obviously enjoying himself here and begs our indulgence which I’m sure you’ll be happy to give if you’re in the right mood. Forgettable, light hearted fun.