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YOUTH (review)


Written and Directed by Paolo Sorrentino / Starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda

Fred Ballinger: I’ve grown old without understanding how I got there.

Fresh from winning an Academy Award for THE GREAT BEAUTY, Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino had assembled a cast with Oscars already on their mantelpiece (Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda), one with an Oscar nomination on his resume (Harvey Keitel) and one who is a frontrunner this year for a nomination (Paul Dano, LOVE & MERCY) and fashioned a visually stunning, Fellini-esque, serio-comedic look at mortality and introspection. Despite its pedigree and lofty ambitions though, YOUTH is more a treat for the eyes than it is for the mind.

Best friends for over sixty years, world renowned composer Fred Ballinger (Caine) and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Keitel) are at a spa in the Swiss Alps. Fred is there with his daughter Lena (Weisz), enjoying his retirement and resisting all attempts from an emissary of Queen Elizabeth to perform his most famous musical composition, “Simple Songs” at a concert celebrating Prince Philip’s upcoming birthday and be rewarded with knighthood, while Mick is there with a group of young collaborators working on his next movie. Together they reminisce about the old days, shared love interests, and discuss their inability now to urinate forcefully or the medications they are on. The banter is witty (Fred’s proclamation that “At my age, getting in shape is merely a waste of time” is my new, personal mantra!) and the chemistry between these seasoned veterans is a joy to watch. Lena has been dealt with the devastating news that her husband (and Mick’s son) Julian (Ed Stoppard) is leaving her for British pop star Paloma Faith, played by real-life British pop star Paloma Faith because his new love is much better in bed, making Lena retaliate venomously by letting Fred know in no uncertain terms of how he was a horrible husband and father all her life. Weisz excels in her full throttle, thespian mode and has never looked more beautiful on screen. Playing Jimmy Tree, an actor best known for playing a robot, Paul Dano is criminally underused. All he does is look bemused throughout the entire movie and, while his one big scene delivers, the character could have been excised from the movie altogether.


And therein lies the issues I have with YOUTH. Sorrentino is a genius when it comes to surreal imagery that leaves a lasting impression. In particular, there is a scene of a nightmarish dream that Lena has where she comes to a grisly end in a Paloma Faith music video that will always resound with me for its sheer brilliance and audacity. But so many other vignettes add nothing to the story. A levitating monk or a naked Miss Universe winner / wannabe actress or an elderly couple who never talk to each other during dinner but have excessively loud, unbridled sex against a tree in a forest are stunning to watch and behold but only made me look at the wristwatch wondering when the movie would end. But seeing a grotesquely made up Jane Fonda in the final ten minutes of YOUTH, as Brenda Morel who starred in many of Mick Boyle’s movie, is the film’s true highlight. Arriving at the spa to advise Mick that she will not star in his next opus as he had not made a successful film in years and is no longer the talented filmmaker he once was. Fonda is incendiary, equally matched with Keitel’s reactions when he realizes that funding for his latest film will be lost without her. It’s Fonda’s best screen performance since she has returned from her self-imposed acting retirement.

YOUTH left me both breathless and bored. It is truly a bizarre combination but the result is underwhelming.

3 sheep

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