Last time around, Paolo Sorrentino treated us to “The Great Beauty”, the winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Annual Academy Awards. Now, we have “Youth”, which managed to muster a sole nomination for Best Original Song at the 88th Annual Academy Awards (“Simple Song #3” by David Lang, which fell to the pop hit from “Spectre”). The reviews for “Youth” were wildly mixed, but I’m digging what Mr. Sorrentino manages to bring to what is only his 2nd English-language film. If nothing else, he pulls a couple of superb late-career performances from Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. In fact, Keitel does his best work in many a year here. And Caine is simply phenomenal.
There’s so much going on in “Youth”, that it defies conventional plot description. Aging friends Fred (Mr. Caine) and Mick (Mr. Keitel) chat often, while on vacation in the Swiss Alps at a luxury resort. Fred is a retired, renowned classical composer, who’s been approached to perform at a Prince Phillip birthday extravaganza. Mick is a filmmaker, fielding ideas with young writers for his next project. Oh, and Fred’s daughter Lena (a luminous Rachel Weisz) is married to Mick’s son Julian (son of Tom, Ed Stoppard), but he’s leaving her for pop star, Paloma Faith (as herself). This treatise on life, love and mortality also includes an unsatisfied actor (versatile Paul Dano), an aging diva (a fantastic Jane Fonda), and a washed-up, overweight soccer star (Roly Serrano doing Diego Maradona).
Mr. Sorrentino idolizes the great Federico Fellini, which is blatantly obvious in all of his work that I’ve experienced. He’s taken some heat for that, but I get it. Hey, I’m old enough to remember the abuse Woody Allen received for mimicking Bergman, and De Palma for same with Hitch. Paolo puts his own personal spin on things, so its wonderful homage. The unusual cast of characters, the beauty mixed with grotesquery…it’s mostly successful here. Occasionally it seems Sorrentino might slide off the rails…and then proves he’s in full command. And largely sans sentimentality–which is always a plus. Also, “Youth” is the 3rd film in a year, where I’ve watched a main character fall/jump to their death, in a disquieting, casual manner. The carnage is never shown, but it’s a powerful and haunting image. Space once filled by a human being…now empty. And Michael Caine is a marvel here. One of our legendary screen actors, at the height of his powers. “Youth” will age well.