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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Movie Review - Youth

Youth (2015)
Starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Alex Macqueen, and Jane Fonda
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
***This film is currently available via HBO Now***

Oh, the potential of Youth.  A talented ensemble cast.  A sometimes touching story (with hints of humor) about two older men trying to remember their engaging past while dealing with their tediously dull present.  A stunningly beautiful nude woman portraying an intelligent Miss Universe winner.  This had a bunch of things going for it.  And then director Paolo Sorrentino goes and screws things up with some of the oddest direction I've seen in a 2015 movie.  Youth certainly looks beautiful, there's no denying that, but the images Sorrentino places up on the screen feel too esoteric to really push the film's plot along, and while I'm sure his visuals meant something to the director, they just befuddle the viewer with a "can't we just get on with the plot" mentality.

At the film's center is Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a famous classical composer and conductor who has left his profession behind after his wife fell ill.  Fred retreats at a luxurious spa catering to the incredibly wealthy in the Alps.  There with him is his daughter-cum-manager Lena (Rachel Weisz) who is always pushing him to reconnect with his sick wife (and her mother) whom he hasn't seen in a decade as well as his best friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a movie director prepping for what he believes to be his last film.  As Fred and Mick rest and relax, they reminisce and often have quite a lot to say about growing old and the effects it can have on one's life.  (Frankly, some of the dialog they spout is actually quite profound and oddly intellectually stimulating, so Sorrentino -- who also wrote the picture -- succeeds in that respect.)

The conflict in the picture arises from the arrival at the spa of a person into each of these men's lives.  For Fred, it's the Queen of England's emissary (Alex Macqueen) sent on a mission to coax the composer into one last outing to play his celebrated "Simple Songs" collection for Prince Philip's birthday.  For Mick, it's Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), an aging actress who has starred in several of his films and whom Mick wants to appear in his final picture.  Both the emissary and Brenda cause the two men to question their current way of life, impacting them in surprising ways.

For the most part, the acting raises the bar for Youth with the ensemble impressing (including an understated Paul Dano playing a young actor also at the spa).  Michael Caine in particular captivates as his Fred copes with living with a bit of repressed guilt for past indiscretions.  Unfortunately, scenes that forward along the story are oftentimes broken up by tiny visual vignettes of other spa-goers that fall tremendously flat after Sorrentino decides to repetitively return to them throughout the film.  As I've said, I'm sure they mean something metaphorically, but this isn't a film that I particularly feel is "study worthy" to have to delve into and investigate what they really signify.  These throwaway scenes bog down the film's running time and take away from the heart of the story which lies in Fred's relationship with his daughter, his friend, and his estranged wife.

Youth is a weird beast because there are things I really liked about it (even the throwaway vignette-like scenes were shot well despite being frivolous).  In the end, however, it's too choppy and lacks a cohesion that I feel would've strengthened the picture.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

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