Film Review – Youth
Italian Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) wrote and directed Youth, a film that examines growing old for a couple of characters, both of which are famous. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a retired, well-known composer. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is a famous film writer and director. Both men have known each other for a while and have both frequented this spa for some time. It is only during this retreat that they seem to reflect on the end of life, what their life’s work has meant, and what is left. Also in the mix is Ballinger’s daughter Lena (Rachel Wiesz) who is coming to terms with a sudden split from her husband who just so happens to be Boyle’s son (Ed Stoppard). Famous actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is using the retreat to prepare for a role while escaping his ridiculous notoriety for playing a robot.
This is a weird film, bordering on some art house flick that is open to wild interpretations. It is entertaining and while weird, it does not play to only those who can understand the nuances and ideas about becoming old. I admit to not picking up on all the deeper meanings Sorrentino probably set out to examine, but it is not a film that turned me off, which can happen with this type of film. It comes off as more of a high-brow film, probably due to the setting of a posh spa that probably costs more than my yearly salary to stay for a week. The random nudity of the guests adds to the weirdness.
This is a beautiful film, from the setting in the Swiss Alps to the beauty of the spa itself. The nightly performances for guests on a round, lit, turning platform makes for an interesting centerpiece to conversations that happen around it. The music also adds to the beauty. Considering one of the main characters is a composer, the music had to be on point. David Lang composed the original score as well as one of Ballinger’s “Simple Songs,” those for which he is most famous. The film ends with one of the “Simple Songs” and it gives finality to the film and evokes the emotional attachment that Ballinger has to it. The song has now been shortlisted for an Oscar nomination.
The core of the film is the musings of Ballinger and Boyle on their lives and what is left of it. While Ballinger is retired, Boyle is trying to write his best film yet with a team of writers. Both examine the beauty of young (naked) women and other things; yet realize their time to possess such a thing has past. While coming to terms with the end of their lives, there are stark realizations of where they have fallen short. They have not lived the best life, and coming to terms with it affects them both very differently. Their views are juxtaposed with Lena and Jimmy’s lives. They still have time to live happier, more fulfilling lives. It is in their interaction with Ballinger that they realize what their lives could be like if they stop living the way they are now. Lena obsesses over the reason her husband left her for a younger woman, but in letting it go, she finds happiness elsewhere. Jimmy realizes taking crap parts in films is getting him nowhere. Probably the funniest sequence in the film is his coming to this realization while in costume for his next part.
Along with the main characters there are smatterings of other minor characters that make the others realize what they have or what they lost. The overweight, retired soccer player mirrors Ballinger and Boyle’s lives. Boyle’s longtime starlet Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) gives Boyle her honest opinion of his latest script, meant for her to star in. It has reverberating effects that none could predict. They all play a part in this eclectic film.
Youth is a far left-field alternative to that somewhat popular film coming out on the same day. It is filled with honest performances by all involved, especially Michael Caine, demonstrating what a great, versatile actor he is. This is quirky, weird film with a stark look at regrets, life, and how to make the most of what is left. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Youth is a film that can be appreciated for its take on both the young and old.