Arts Review, Movies
Paolo Sorrentino, director & script
Starring: Michael Caine (Fred Ballinger), Harvey Keitel (Mick Boyle), Rachel Weisz (Lena Ballinger), Paul Dano (Jimmy Tree), Jane Fonda (Brenda Morel), Roly Serrano (Diego Maradona), Alex Macqueen (Queen’s emissary)
Paolo Sorrentino may have followed up his Oscar winning foreign film The Great Beauty with a piece called Youth but it should really have been called “Old Age.” The story concerns a retired orchestral conductor, and composer, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his best friend, a film director named Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who are spending a summer together in a plush hotel in Switzerland. Accompanying them are Ballinger’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and Boyle’s son, Julian (Ed Stoppard) who are married to each other.
The senior years of our protagonists are hardly restful—this is a Sorrentino film, after all, full of big scenes and lots of drama. Lena and Julian break up; Mick’s script requires the rather comical help of five young scriptwriters; and Fred’s retirement is shaken by the Queen of England’s request—made rather vigorously by an emissary—that he conduct the BBC orchestra in a rendering of his most famous composition “Simple Songs.”
The film moves slowly through scenes of quirky hotel employees and guests (including an extremely overweight version of former football great Diego Maradona) going through their daily lives; Mick trying to sort out his script; Lena attempting to resolve her relationship with her father; an actor (Paul Dano as Jimmy Tree) prepping for his next significant film role; and the two old friends philosophizing over the meaning of life—and familial obligations.
It’s all rather grand and pretentious although there are occasional moments of comedy. (A brilliant and very sexy Miss Universe is a nice comic element, for example, as is Lena’s gradual attraction to a British mountaineer.) But it feels quite false.
The film concludes with Fred Ballinger conducting the BBC’s orchestra in his “Simple Songs,” which sounds like a bad version of an Arvo Part composition, featuring violinist Viktoria Mullova and singer Sumi Jo—two performers who are known for abandoning classical purity for more commercial ventures that pay them quite well.
That said, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel give Oscar-worthy performances as does Jane Fonda in a small but pivotal role as Keitel’s former leading lady. Despite (or perhaps because of) its flaws, Youth remains an exciting film, well worth watching.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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