Heath in Heat

For your Heath Ledger holiday-movie options, you have (a) a cowboy in love with another man or (b) history’s most infamous womanizer. Because the name Casanova is synonymous with an un-quenchable thirst for straight sex with women (or at least boasting about it), the role might seem to be a strategic selection for a guy concerned about being perceived as gay. But whether or not you find cause for suspicion in Casanova‘s landing in theaters within mere days of Brokeback Mountain, it might still be worth your time. It’s a sweet, silly, not unintelligent romantic comedy; for a period farce, you could do worse.

Italy’s 18th-century ladykiller is portrayed by Ledger as a good-natured hottie who can’t help but avail himself of the pleasures of the female flesh. Sienna Miller plays Francesca Bruni, a bookish firecracker who strains against the limitations imposed on women of her day and promotes the work of a feminist philosopher. Of course, once Casanova gets sight of the single woman who won’t have him, he’s smitten, politics be damned.

The role may come naturally to Miller, who has already fallen in love with a charming blond whose mere glances inspire women to remove their clothing (in Alfie and in real life — we can only imagine the discomfort on the set as even the Venetian extras strained to withhold their Jude Law jokes).

To avoid prosecution as a libertine, Casanova must marry within three days. (Yeah, just go with it.) He finds a willing virgin and becomes engaged, but in the process, he ends up in a duel with a competitor for her hand. His opponent, agile with a sword, is unmasked as a woman — the same one he witnessed a few days earlier making an impassioned speech for female rights. It is, of course, Francesca Bruni.

The obstacles: Casanova is engaged, and so is Bruni. Also, she doesn’t like Casanova. Even before she learns his true identity (he pretends to be quite a few other people), Bruni isn’t swayed by Casanova’s protestations of attraction, which are based — as they always are — on little more than lust. She’s the kind of woman who requires a man to earn her love.

None of this is particularly interesting. What makes the film fun are the enjoyably convoluted twists and turns that introduce and employ hilarious characters. Jeremy Irons is delicious as a priggish, bumbling bishop, and Oliver Platt is even better as Bruni’s fiancé, a lard merchant from Genoa who arrives in Venice on a barge of fat.

Director Lasse Hallström (The Shipping News, Chocolat) gets away with pretty much everything by employing a brand of simplistic feminism that nobody can object to. As in many romantic comedies, the love between the two principals isn’t given much time to develop, and it’s never entirely believable. But the script is so busy contriving farcical scenes of mistaken identity, slapstick and general buffoonery that it hardly matters. It’s hard to fault a movie that seems to be having such a good time, especially when it springs from a deft script. You’ll likely leave the theater in a humming mood.

Categories: Movies