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"Casanova": Supporting actor Oliver Platt saves comedy's flow
Special to The Seattle Times
Earlier this month, Oliver Platt won the New York Film Critics Online Award for best supporting actor for his lovely work in Lasse Hallström's silly costume comedy, "Casanova." They picked the one aspect of the film that isn't dispensable.
As Papprizzio, a wealthy 18th-century merchant who is committed to marrying a woman he's never met (Sienna Miller), Platt delivers the belly laughs Hallström keeps promising but rarely provides. At first the movie appears to be mocking Papprizzio for his girth and gullibility, but he turns out to be full of surprises, and considerably more fun than anyone else in sight.
Heath Ledger, who is currently winning his own well-deserved awards for "Brokeback Mountain," is disappointingly lightweight here. As the young Casanova, who earns the wrath of the sadistic Vatican inquisitor Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons), Ledger comes off as a modern actor uncomfortable in a period role. So does Miller's Francesca, a 21st-century feminist whose apparent indifference to Casanova merely heightens his interest in her.
It's not really their fault that the characters don't ring true. The script insists on domesticating Casanova, packaging him for a formulaic farce in which his promiscuity is a phase rather than a way of life. As soon as he finds the right woman, who turns out to be Francesca, he'll supposedly give up his philandering ways. (What a double bill this would make with Fellini's "Casanova," in which Donald Sutherland plays the aging Casanova as an unrepentant rake.)
The plot is set in motion when Casanova is informed that he will have to flee Venice or find a bride if he is to escape execution. Many masks, disguises and mistaken identities later, the story ends pretty much as you guessed it would, with a series of increasingly unlikely personality makeovers that add up to a great deal of wishful thinking.
Hallström, whose string of recent misfires includes "An Unfinished Life" and "The Shipping News," appears to have been trying to capture the spirit of a Shakespearean comedy. But the actors generate little romantic chemistry and the movie often resembles a Venetian travelogue.
It was filmed entirely in Venice by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, who lends a shimmering fairy-tale quality to the locations. Pretty as the picture is, only Platt's engaging performance keeps it from fading out.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
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