Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is a considerably strong movie about the human embodiment and age, and a celebration of the internal spirit. The film works well thanks to being well-made, well edited, and well-acted.
Set in a hotel, Youth tells the story of two elderly friends, Fred and Mick, who are on vacation in an elegant hotel near the Alps. Fred Ballinger (played by Michael Caine) is a retired composer and conductor, and Mick Boyle (played by Harvey Keitel) is a (still working) movie director. Fred has some issues with his daughter’s attitude (played by Rachel Weisz), and Mick is just bewildered by the crazy people who are in the hotel, particularly Jimmy Tree (played by Paul Dano), a method actor who is constantly bewildered when people only remember him for his role as a robot. Mick is struggling to try and get his last intended film made, and is trying to get aging diva, Brenda Morel (played by Jane Fonda) involved. Meanwhile, Fred is retired from his musical career, but is considering performing again after he is approached to perform his song “Simple Songs” in front of Queen Elizabeth at Prince Philip’s birthday concert. Both stories meet and go, but are pretty effectively told.
One of the many things that really makes Youth work are the acting performances. There are a lot of seasoned actors in this film really showing their chops. Michael Caine has one of his best roles in this film. As the bitter and aging musician, Fred Ballinger, Caine is mostly restrained, showing much emotion through his raw energy. A lot of the times, especially when he and his daughter talk, there is much believability and genuine heart between the two. Harvey Keitel is also very good as Mick Boyle, a counterbalance to Ballinger, Boyle is more cool and collective, and not as easily depressed. He does struggle with trying to get his work done, but he’s very open about it. This is probably the best thing in years that Keitel has been involved in. Weisz is a nice support as Ballinger’s daughter, and I love her delivery of “You didn’t know the first thing about my mother”. Dano is his usual charmingly weird self. Jane Fonda has brief screen time, and her character is a bit of a nag and a diva, but her introduction sequence, filmed from the back, and then showing her smile in the reflection of a camera, and then finally facing the camera, really personifies her characters’ personality, and is well-done.
The film is actually a very director driven film. Sorrentino really shows his craftsmanship as a filmmaker, with some of the scenes he does here. There are, for example, some really bizarre dream sequences. One involves Fred imagining he is walking around the palace of Queen Elizabeth as the water slowly starts to rise and collapse on him. Another dream sequence involves Ballinger’s daughter, Lena, who is in a commercial with a bunch of cool recording artists. The dream literally ends with her being covered up with flames. Another sequence involves Mick trying to film an actress, and then he starts imagining actresses in different time periods as policewomen, Victorian style women, and even a femme fatale in the black and white stylings of Lauren Bacall. These sequences really don’t add much to the story, but they are great and very enjoyable to watch from a directing standpoint. Another nice directing touch is a montage, early on in the film, of people moving in and around the hotel, as it cuts back and forth to Fred scrunching up a candy-bar wrapper. There’s also nice humor in the film, with lines like “That’s a totally asinine idea”, and “Most insignificant woman in the world”, which made me chuckle.
As a lot of the film is about music, naturally music plays a key role. The Oscar-nominated song “Simple Songs Number 3” is a nice ballad, performed by Korean singer, Sumi Jo, and is bout the simple pleasures and struggles of life. The actual music in the film itself is pretty good, sounding very eloquent and well-layered.
Youth can suffer from some pretentious dialogue, and feel a little overdone in its pacing and directing, and this is Sorrentino’s first English language film, which explains the dialogue. However, once you get past those not so significant misgivings, I think you’ll find a mostly enjoyable film about the human spirit, and how, at any age, we can and do keep trying to accomplish things. It’s certainly a film worth checking out.