dir. Paolo Sorrentino
written by: Paolo Sorrentino
starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda
2.5 out of 4 stars
Director Paolo Sorrentino’s Fellini ode The Great Beauty won Best Foreign Language Film for 2013. Sporting the style and spirit of Rome’s elite nightlife, Sorrentino wowed with his harkening production. For his follow up, he has provided theaters with Youth, a comedic drama exploring the effects of aging on family, love, career, etc. On holiday in the Alps, retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) reflects on his accomplishments and recognition in the music business and attempts to determine his placement in history. Alongside his assistant/daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his best friend/film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), the characters reflect upon their hits and misses over the years and the struggles of modern aging.
With unnatural dialogue plaguing the script, this movie possesses more value than it likely would without such a talented cast. Caine is expectedly strong as an older Brit not dreading his history but maintaining his stances as his prostate fails him. Conducting a chorus of cows, the two time Academy Award winner commits to his performance with his usual strength and understated flair. Less impressively, Keitel stumbles over the choppy dialogue in an underwritten role. Trying to land him along the sweeping retrospective of Fred’s life, his role seems miniscule and nearly unimportant. Spare his crowning scene with Jane Fonda in one hell of a cameo, Keitel seems starved to reunite with American directors like Beatty or Tarantino. Coming out of nowhere, referring to the conversation surrounding her performance, Rachel Weisz produces the strongest performance of the cast. Suffering from heartbreak, Weisz is raw and forceful. Her tear laden tirade putting her father in his place is the most powerful of the film. Fonda was fun iconography; Weisz was acting excellence.
The production seemed troubled. Linking bizarre fever dreams of the world surrounding the main characters, Sorrentino steps into surrealism to express the more troubled aspects of the characters’ lives. Almost always poorly timed, they provide a specific style on his direction, but ultimately distract from the feel of the movie. Despite the weaknesses in the film, Youth grows on you while it develops. The friendship between Caine and Keitel, though poorly worded, feels genuine, and the relationship between father and daughter produces the strongest scenes. One wishes to see more adventures from the ladies in their lives. And as for the film’s sole nomination in most of this years’ contention is for the beautiful closing opus, essential to the plot, is “Simple Song #3”. The scene is all arm waving and closeups, but the melody is gorgeous and necessary.
This, paired with my next review of Crimson Peak, show the struggles of foreign directors operating their stylized visions for English language audiences. A valiant effort here payed off with superb casting and some powerful individual scenes. Producing an Italian laced comedic drama is a struggle, but I very much see why Fellini and Bergman stuck to their native tongues as much as possible, translation and vision do not always transition at the same pace.