Saturday movie review: Youth

The movie YOUTH has a lot going for it. Beautiful imagery. Dreamlike cinematography. A soul-stirring score with ethereal notes floating throughout. A superior cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda. Poignant scenes featuring that cast, all marked by longing, melancholy, loneliness, folks young and old searching for wisdom, connection, contentment.

YOUTH movie

What YOUTH doesn't have, though, is a satisfying story. I watched and waited, often confusedly so, hoping that by the end, the mish-mash of masterful bits would come together in some profound way that would leave me changed, moved, fulfilled.

That didn't happen. And the lack of gratification and closure come the closing credits negated, for me, each and every ounce of beauty and flash of brilliance in this semi-surreal drama by Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino.

Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired orchestra conductor who, along with his daughter Lena (Weisz) and best friend Mick (Keitel), is vacationing at a luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps. Fred has pledged to never conduct again and nonchalantly turns down a request from Queen Elizabeth to play for Prince Phillip's birthday.

As Fred contends with aging and apathy about life and death, his friend Mick, a film director, works on creating a masterful last film that will star film great Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda). Fred's daughter Lena struggles with her husband (who happens to be Mick's son) unexpectedly leaving her for a pop star, which dredges up long-buried pain and disappointment in her father for the lecherous ways he treated her mother — whom viewers are unsure through much of the film if the woman is dead or alive.

Witnessing and questioning all the turmoil from a safe distance is Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree (Dano), who seems the most normal of all at the resort but ultimately reveals some serious issues of his own.


Every character in YOUTH seems to be searching for something more, something to make them complete, something that gives sense to their past, their present, and their future. Ultimately, they all, regardless of their age, seem to be searching for youth — the beauty, joy, and hope associated with it. The confused characters consider their plights with a sense of humor and wonder, sometimes even wisdom. So it's not all doom and gloom. It just never seems to make any sense to me. The parts are greater than the whole, and I hate wasting my time on films like that, films that make me long for more, wish at least someone in the story found what they were searching for.

I certainly didn't find what I was searching for in YOUTH. Unfortunately. I wanted to love the film that, from the trailer, promised powerful performances and a profound story that might pack a punch. The performances were indeed powerful; the story, though, fizzled and left me regretting having spent more than two hours waiting for a powerful payoff.

YOUTH was a Cannes 2015 selection and, from what I've read, was met by a mixed bag of bravos and boos. Reviews from critics vary wildly, with some loving it and considering it a masterpiece, to others feeling quite like I did upon its conclusion, plus a few meh reactions in between. Surprisingly, the film has been nominated for several awards (including a few wins for Jane Fonda).

The varied reactions lead me to believe some readers may disagree with my review, may be intrigued by the film. Which is why I'll share one of the more interesting featurettes I found on it, wherein the actors discuss age and YOUTH:


YOUTH (rated R "for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language") opened in U.S. theaters last December and will be available on Blu-ray March 1. Find out more on the film's official site.

Disclosure: I screened this film for free, courtesy Fox Home Entertainment; opinions are my own.