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Heath Ledger returns to his pretty-boy roots as the infamous lothario

If you’re looking to Hollywood to provide you a few laughs over the holidays, maybe to help you get over all that time you’ll be spending with the family, don’t count on perennial funny ladies Jennifer Aniston or Sarah Jessica Parker to be there for you. Turns out Heath Ledger is your go-to person this season, starring not only in one of the year’s best dramas (Brokeback Mountain), but also in December’s best comedy: Lasse Hallström’s Casanova.

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Heath Ledger kisses the girls and makes them cry for more in Casanova, surprisingly one of the year’s best comedies.

The Australian pretty boy returns to his pretty-boy roots after attempting to shed said reputation in such flicks as Lords of Dogtown, The Brothers Grimm, and Brokeback (for which he’ll probably be nominated for an Oscar). Considering that Ledger has voiced fears that he’d be typecast by his looks, one has to wonder why he took on Casanova. Don’t get any ideas, though. There are no esoteric mind-games going on here, like “Casanova is a commentary on society’s obsession with physical beauty over ... blah blah blah.” The guy saw an opportunity to film in Venice for four months and that’s about it. Nevertheless, his European-vacation opportunity resulted in a romantic comedy, at times of epically hilarious proportions despite the film’s emphasis on caricature over character. The gist of it: Boy is rejected by girl he wants to have sex with, boy falls in love with girl because she won’t have sex with him, girl rejects boy because he probably has syphilis, boy wins girl over because it’s the 18th century and everyone has syphilis.

The dashing Casanova is so damn good with the ladies, he even beds entire nunneries. When one deflowered child of God is advised she will suffer eternal damnation for her night with the lothario, she shrugs and says, “Seems fair.” Now that is what you call skill: Women are willing to go to hell for the chance to have you forget their names before sunrise. So why doesn’t Casanova’s true love, Francesca Bruni (the breathtaking Sienna Miller), reciprocate his affection? Probably because she’s shagging Jude Law. Wait, that’s Miller in the real world. Francesca, on the other hand, is that new cliché of period movies: the forward-thinking woman trapped in a male-dominated society (Viola in Shakespeare in Love, Maria in Stage Beauty, etc.). In this case, Francesca writes infamous philosophy like a man, fences like a man, and even invents hot-air balloons ... like the Montgolfier brothers? Of course, they did it for the first time in 1783—which makes Francesca, who does it in 1753, a real smarty-pants, doesn’t it?

Casanova

Dir. Lasse Hallström; writ. Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberly Simi, Michael Cristofer; feat. Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin (R)

The real reason Francesca doesn’t reciprocate Casanova’s love is because he doesn’t love her, though his love for her is integral if the romantic comedy is to work beyond the laughs. Ordered by the doge of Venice to take a wife or vacate the city, Casanova turns to the one woman he can’t have in order to guarantee he can stick around and keep, quite literally, sticking it around. From the beginning it’s a game to him in which he uses every deceit he can invent to win her affection, even pretending to be the fiancé she hasn’t met but is betrothed to by her dead father (the fiancé, by the way, is played by Oliver Platt with rotund ridiculousness).

Director Hallström redeems himself here for An Unfinished Life and The Shipping News, but never provides any sense of what Casanova sees in Francesca except the unattainable, which apparently is enough to guarantee happily ever after. If that is truly the case, Natalie Portman’s rejection of my phone calls is just her idea of foreplay, the tease.

By Cole Haddon


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