There is a lot going on in Youth (opening today), although there may not seem to be on the surface. It is a contemplative, patient story about aging, one that takes its time to ponder the questions it raises. Many, many films have tackled the same subject, but writer/director Paolo Sorrentino is himself a breath of fresh air. This isn’t Grumpy Old Men or Cocoon. It’s one of the best films of 2015.
Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is staying at a luxurious resort that at first seems like it might be a high-end mental ward. Fred is a retired composer, so famous and legendary that the Queen has sent for him personally, to conduct his famed “Simple Songs” piece for an upcoming royal birthday. Fred goes for long walks with his old friend, Mick (Harvey Keitel), a filmmaker who is on retreat with a group of screenwriters. Mick is working on a new script for his long-time muse, Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda). Also staying at the hotel is the actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), who had aspirations of being a “serious” actor but who is only known for his robot character he played in a big-budget film…he is at the resort to research a new role that he hopes will bring legitimacy back to his career.
Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) comes to see her father, looking for answers after her husband – Mick’s son – leaves her for the younger, bubbly pop-sensation, Paloma Faith (played by real-life pop sensation, Paloma Faith).
All of the occupants of this place are at different moments in their lives, different moments in time, all living with regrets and pondering on their future. Others come and go, like the overweight international soccer (football) star Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano), whose life choices have resulted in him barely being able to move, and Miss Universe herself (Madalina Diana Ghenea) who is a literal example to the aging men of time gone by.
Caine gives a quiet, introspective performance, and is marvelous, as is the entire cast. Keitel has never been given such good material to work with, and it is a career-rejuvenation. Jane Fonda, who only has two scenes in the film, blows in like a tornado, touches down and leaves her mark. Her scenes are so grand, it’ll be hard to deny her nominations this award season.
The team of director Paolo Sorrentino and his cinematographer Luca Bigazzi are an absolute force…both of them can easily be considered the current best at what they do. For those that saw Sorrentino’s last film, his Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty, you will know what I’m talking about. Every single shot could win an award on their own. There is a vibrance, a beauty – a purpose – to each shot, that it almost matters not what the actors are doing. A Sorrentino and Bigazzi film is watchable with the sound turned off.
But more than the splendor of the film, Sorrentino creates a relaxing mood in Youth. We feel like we are at the five-star resort along with its inhabitants. But this is not a vacation spent running around, seeing the sights and experiencing new adventures. This is the sort of spiritual journey one takes alone, where you can center and reflect on just how you ended up where you are.
There are subtle twists and turns to this story, but the electricity generated between all of the different characters really fuels things along…and that’s even before Fonda shows up to blow the whole thing up, magnificently. Youth is a different kind of film, reserved and reflective, but undeniably relatable. Fred’s poignant journey leads him towards life, and reveals for us all that there is always more road ahead than there is behind.
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda, Paloma Faith, Roly Serrano
Written & Directed by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, Il Divo)
Opens locally on Friday, Dec 25, 2015 (check for show times).