No one could have predicted this yearís
most romantic irony: Heath Ledger will
be nominated for an Oscar for his role
as a heartbroken gay Montana sheepherder
in Brokeback Mountain
while his portrayal of Casanova,
historyís most famous ladies man, has
failed to raise the mercury a single
degree on the sexual-romance thermostat.
Perhaps itís a sign of the times.
Critics prefer Ledger as an
impoverished, quiet, brooding cowboy
lover over a smiling, rollicking
happy-go-lucky Venetian aristocrat. That
could be the fodder of interesting
social commentary if it were true.
Unfortunately, itís not. Casanova
is instead a sanitized slapstick version
of the real-life exploits of another
kind of gay blade, missing some
First and foremost, a romantic comedy is
supposed to make us laugh. Second, a
romantic comedy should be at least
romantic enough to remind you of a film
like When Harry Met
Sally or Pretty Woman.
Third, a romantic comedy requires a few
Thereís no lack of visual humor (a.k.a.
sight gags). They begin early when you
see Casanova making love to a nun.
However, it would have been funnier if
director Lasse Hallstrom had prefaced
the scene by playing up the historical
fact that the real Casanova
joined the seminary to become a priest,
not to commit mortal sin. His sexual
promiscuity gets him into holy hot water
with the Catholic Church and, in
particular, with the enforcer for the
Inquisition, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy
Irons makes a great Gestapo-like
character determined to silence the
disrespectful blasphemer and violator of
everything held sacred. Yet, the humor
inherent in Casanovaís many disguises
and brilliant escapes from his nemesis
are not fully exploited. Instead, weíre
fed frequent bouts of teenage sexual
humor and double entendres regarding the
size and performance of certain body
Romance in the film comes in the form of
a feminist named Francesca (Sienna
Miller). After Casanova escapes
punishment for his scandalous affairs at
the nunnery, he is told by his mentor
The Doge to marry a respectable woman or
find himself banished from Venice
forever. Casanova finds a hot-blooded
young virgin but is quickly distracted
by her more challenging intellectual
sister Francesca. Francesca likes to
dress up as a man and write provocative
treatises under a pseudonym on the role
of the modern woman.
Unfortunately for Casanova, she has no
interest in being another entry in his
little black book and is in fact already
promised in an arranged marriage to
Paprizzo (Oliver Platt), a tub-of-lard
magnate as fat as Jabba the Hut. By
default, Oliver Platt is the comic
relief in this movie.
You eventually expect sparks to fly
after the hard-to-get feminist Francesca
becomes acquainted with the deeply
philosophical and marriage-minded
Casanova. However, there is little
romance, only a hint of sensuality and
absolutely no sex between these two.
Miller is tedious and bored as a
romantic lead. Ledger just looks dazed
and confused. Few ingredients of true
love are present. What ever happened to
awkward stares, long conversations and
the candlelight dinner known to spark an
18th century affair of the heart?
Letís review the checklist for
Casanova: too few laughs, little
genuine romance and the only memorable
performances from actors in supporting
Oh, yes, there is one redeeming feature
of this film. Venice never looked more
glorious on the big screen. This most
romantic city of the world was the
backdrop for one of the most interesting
historical figures of the 18th century,
and we still hardly know him.
The real Casanova was also tried for
witchcraft, escaped to Paris where he
became a celebrity, won the lottery, was
left heartbroken by his first great love
Henriette and died at his castle in Dux
in what is now the Czech Republic at the
age of 73.
Sometimes life really is more
interesting than Hollywood.