Friday, December 25, 2015


Writer/director Paolo Sorrentino's Youth is the kind of ensemble dramedy you will either buy into immediately or struggle to make any connection to throughout its two-hour running time. My experience with the film falls into the later category. Sorrentino's script gives us an odd collection of characters at an otherworldly resort in the Swiss Alps. The main storylines revolve around retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his relationships to his best friend filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz).

Sorrentino's film isn't lacking for either on-screen talent or style. Although not in the category of their best performances, the ensemble plays well off one another. And the film looks terrific but, since we are viewing events through an unreliable protagonist in Frank, its unclear how much of the magic is actually present in the odd resort and how much (such as his hallucinations) are entirely figments of his imagination. I suppose, like most of the movie's superflous plot and characters, it doesn't really matter.

The primary conflict of the film deals with Fred's refusal to conduct one of his songs for the Queen, Lena attacking her father's relationship with her mother while dealing with her own separation from Mick's son (Ed Stoppard) who has left her for another woman (Paloma Faith). But that's far from all that's going on in the film as the movie cuts in and out with conversations about Fred and Mick's urination and their fascination with a silent couple (Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher), the team of screenwriters working on banging out a screenplay (while talking more to the audience than each other), the arrival of Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea), an actor (Paul Dano) working on a role, the movements of a masseuse (Luna Mijovic) whose importance to the plot eludes me, and various other skirting tales of characters that stay or work in the resort which are never fully developed.

Sorrentino's latest project a flawed movie with some great moments (such as Fred and Mick catching the mute couple in the woods show some actual emotion for a change) and beautiful set pieces, but it's lack of focus gets it into trouble as the script meanders to deliver a 60-minute story over more than two-hours. And despite all its messy storytelling and odd sensibilities the movie comes to a close in the most predictable way possible ending on one hell of an anticlimactic note.

Youth is the kind of film that is interesting to look at without being interesting to actually watch. Artistic but empty. Vivid but vapid. Neither its cast nor scenery can obscure that the film ultimately doesn't have much to say outside cliched sentimental tropes. For all its style the movie lacks substance, and far too much of the plot needs to be trimmed as several characters (Miss Universe, Dano, the screenwriters, Faith, Stoppard, the silent couple, and countless others) could all easily be cut to give the movie time to deal with its main storylines in more than just superficial detail.

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