The film has the benefit of featuring a strong enough ending as to make one reassess everything that has come before.
I’ve been following the career of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino since 2004’s The Consequences of Love, which is one of the better Italian films of the new millennium. He followed that film with The Family Friend in 2006, another winner, and from there he’s been on a downhill slope, as far as I’m concerned. 2008’s Il Divo was well made but forgettable, and his 2011 English-language feature This Must Be the Place was something of an interesting mess. Then, in 2013, he made The Great Beauty, the first film of his I outright didn’t like, and of course, that was the one that broke him to a much bigger American audience. Among other things, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film the year of its release. My big issue with that film was that it was pretty transparently Sorrentino aping Federico Fellini—and I’m not much a Fellini fan.
Sadly, Sorrentino is still in Fellini mode with his new film, Youth, but happily, I liked it better than I did The Great Beauty. Youth made its local debut at the St. Louis International Film Festival last month, which is where I caught it. As you leave the auditorium of a SLIFF screening, they have you rate the film on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best), for Audience Awards purposes. At that time, I rated Youth a 3, but it has played well in my head since then, and around now I’d boost that to a 4.
Youth is a buddy comedy between two aging men, the retired (but world-renowned) composer Fred Ballinger (an excellent Michael Caine) and the still-working film director Mick Boyle (an even better Harvey Keitel). The two are staying at the same resort in the Swiss Alps, a place populated exclusively by the very rich, notably a rock star (Paul Dano) and Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea). The best parts of the movie are the ones with just Fred and Mick talking, but sadly, their conversations are sometimes derailed by outsiders, such as Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz, whom I usually don’t like, but who is good here) and Mick’s favorite movie star Brenda Morel (an inexplicably much-praised Jane Fonda, who has about five minutes of screen time and doesn’t do much but eat the scenery with it).
The film is chauvinistic in the way those who have studied Fellini will recognize, and this aspect kept me out of the film for most of its duration. However, it has the benefit of featuring a strong enough ending as to make one reassess everything that has come before, and it is said ending that has kept the film in my head these past few weeks. I’ll be interested in seeing how it plays the second time around.
I’m suspicious that the film will be of particular interest to the demographic it depicts: older white men. Fred and Mick’s worries and foibles will presumably be the most familiar to them, and the film’s ogling of its females will probably please them, as well. And while it might leave the rest of us at least somewhat out in the cold, there are merit-worthy contributions to the film from many of its actors and filmmakers, so it isn’t a bust regardless your age or gender. | Pete Timmermann