Release: 30th May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Fred (Michael Caine), a retired composer and conductor, vacations at a Swiss Spa with his longtime friend Mick (Harvey Keitel). As Mick crafts what may be his final screenplay, Fred is given the opportunity to perform for the Queen.
Paolo Sorrentino clearly spends a lot of his time living in his own head, and so do his characters. Those heads must be a place of pessimism, loneliness and regret, because if Youth is anything to go by, they view their futures as a pretty bleak possibility.
Like a highly indulged art instalment, Youth sits on our screens refusing to do much of anything but insisting on how smart everyone involved is. It dazzles us with visual flair, and walks in riddles and metaphor, while all the while feigning ignorance of our presence and refusing us entry into its inner circle of consciousness. Youth does raise some interesting thoughts about life’s many ‘starting blocks’, and regularly has its finger on the pulse of passion and how it drives our memories – which in turn direct our tomorrow. But what the film truly amounts to is this; Michael Caine sitting on a log in a Swiss hillside, using a Quality Street wrapper as some form of metronome. What this all means, of course, is an external manifestation of a man trying to find his rhythm in life; trying to discover who he is once more. So if that rings your bell, then Youth might well be a treat.
The cast all give heartfelt performances. Caine is a little dry in places, sometimes too heavy-handed on the ‘doddery’ performance. Harvey Keitel offers up a little more gumption, as Mick Boyle, and Paul Dano keeps it cool and calm as the film’s psychosocially oldest cast member. But the true star of Youth is Rachel Weisz. Youth marks the second time this year that she has populated an unusual spa retreat and stolen the show (see The Lobster). She gives herself over to the character of Lena, as if the role means something to her on a personal level. There is a vulnerability and childish innocence to her portrayal, which makes Lena at once the strongest and most naïvely sincere character in the film. She is Youth’s beating heart, and it’s…well, youthful soul.
Youth looks lovely, and plays like a very European drama. Everything that happens is in the ether of the character’s thoughts, and aside from a horrendously trippy scene with Paloma Faith, you might even accuse Youth of being admirably sensible. But sadly what you cannot accuse it of being is entertaining. You know it’s bad when the most engaging moment in the whole film is a morbidly obese man kicking a tennis ball. Unless, that is, you love beeeewbs. Youth has beeeewbs and winkles aplenty.
Film Grade: D
It is plain as day, that Sorrentino is a joy to work for. In the film’s special features, we see the great vibe which existed on the set of Youth. The series of Behind The Scenes interviews give a sense that this was a film about its director and the little project he has invited the cast to be a part of. The is also an Interview with Sorrentino that is used in snippets through out the features, but is best watched as a whole. He clearly expect the profoundness of the film to seep through, but this is arguable in its execution. Still, the man comes across as a true filmmaker, not just a gun for hire or self appointed artist.
To finish up, the Gallery is just a series of stills. Nothing to write home about, but plenty of smiling taking place. Which, at least, cannot be said for the film itself.
Special Features Grade: C+
If Paolo Sorrentino wanted Youth to feel like the agony of old age, then he has succeeded. As a smart/funny/pensive look at the nature of age and ‘future’ self, this is a film far too obsessed with itself to be anything but dull.