Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino was responsible for one of my favorite foreign films of the last few years, The Great Beauty aka La grande bellezza. That film dealt with a Roman writer’s shifting view of his life following his 65th birthday bash. In Sorrentino’s newest film Youth, he again looks at men of a certain age, coming to terms with their place in the world. This one is in English and stars Michael Caine as Fred and Harvey Keitel as Mick, two long time friends who are vacationing in a luxurious alpine spa.
Between walks in the beautiful Swiss Alps, massages and soaks, and nightly performances, Mick and Fred reflect on their lives and loves. Filmmaker Mick has brought along a young writing team to work on what he hopes will be his final cinematic testament. Composer/Conductor Fred has already retired, though that doesn’t stop a royal emissary from hounding him to conduct his famous symphony for Prince Philip’s upcoming birthday bash. Also along for the ride is Fred’s daughter (Rachel Weizs) who is his assistant and is married to Mick’s son. And there is a famous young actor (Paul Dano) who would do anything to break away from being known for one iconic role. There’s also an obese former soccer star who trudges around the place, but never interacts with Mick and Fred. Surrounding them all is a cast of oddballs and characters only there for their eccentricities. The film frequently goes into tableau mode, and the visuals are spectacular, even if they don’t add up to much.
Sorrentino has definitely seen and loved a LOT of Fellini films, and this one leans heavily on 8 1/2. And that is part of the problem for me. It doesn’t really get there. It is more a series of interesting scenes than a great movie. The opening song goes on forever, as do several scenes. But Caine and Keitel are both wonderful as usual, and Jane Fonda’s scenery chewing moment is a lot of fun. Youth is pretty self-indulgent and arty for arty’s sake a lot of the time, but it is memorable. It is a so-so script saved by its two leads and great visuals.