Casanova (2005) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Jeremy Irons, Ken Stott, Omid Djalili, Stephen Greif, Natalie Dormer
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Screenplay: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberly Simi
Casanova is a fun romp when you're in the mood for one, and probably tedious otherwise. It's the latest confectionary concoction by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules), but this one's not likely to put him back into the Best Picture category, even if the costume work certainly merits a look for Oscar voters. This comedy falls under the category of lush escapism, as taking in the sights and spectacle of 18th Century Venice makes for a visual treat that's extravagant and lively enough to endure even in a bad film. I wouldn't exactly put Casanova into the bad film category, but it's not easy to put it in the good one either, falling squarely in the realm of a niche movie for those that typically enjoy ribald farces with mistaken identities, amorous adventures, and cheeky double entendres.
Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain, Lords of Dogtown) gets the starring role of Casanova, an infamous playboy that has bed nearly every attractive woman in Venice, whether they are available or not. Many men are after him, including the Catholic Church, but the women aren't talking, as they do adore him so very much. Of course, like most playboys, he eventually meets his better in the form of a smart and alluring woman named Francesca (Miller, Alfie), who despises everything Casanova embodies. Casanova is drawn to her, but she's a tough nut to crack, and with a fanatical foil named Pucci (Irons, Kingdom of Heaven) out to put an end to his affairs, he has his hands full trying to keep his many identities separate to elude the ire of everyone.
Casanova is as lavish a presentation as one could reasonably hope for, filled with grand sets, excellent make-up, and an attractive and appealing cast that breathes life into characters in a way that makes us interested, but not in any serious way. Hallstrom does a fine job in keeping the tone light and frothy, as it should be, with some moments funny, others romantic, and always moving forward fast enough for us not to care about how silly the story really is at heart.
While Casanova is enjoyable, it does have an inherently derivative nature to it, very similar to many lusty period piece comedies, filled with familiar archetypes, predictable side plots, and wafer-thin characters that are mere punchlines to the film's barrage of sexually-tinged witticisms. if you've seen one or two of these kinds of films in the past, you've probably already seen most of what Casanova has to offer.
Fans of Ledger, Hallstrom, costume farces, and humor that pokes a little fun at the Catholic church will probably come away with a favorable opinion of the film, while it is hit-and-miss for most everyone else. With so many fine qualities to the production, and with a capable cast and director, it does manage to be a bit of a disappointment that more couldn't have been done with the story to make it truly compelling, however. Like the character of Casanova himself, the movie is strictly meant for an evening of fun and games, becoming nothing but a fond, ever distant memory after dazzling with its one-note hedonistic display.
©2006 Vince Leo