Youth – Film Review

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda

Release Date: 29 Jan

Fred Ballinger (Caine), a retired composer and conductor, spends his holiday at a luxury resort in Switzerland, of which he has frequented for years. Along with his old friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Keitel), his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), a movie star named Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), and a collection of other characters staying at the resort, Fred ponders his former years and the changes that come with age.
As he contemplates the many aspects of life, he is invited to come out of retirement for one more performance, at the request of Queen Elizabeth II.

Although Youth is one of the more lightly Oscar nominated movies of the year, receiving just the one nomination for its original song, it may still weigh on the minds of some that are watching the award ceremony. This is due to one of its stars who has weighed in on the controversy of the award ceremony’s lack of black nominees in all acting categories. This star, of course, being Michael Caine.
Two times Oscar winner, he has asked actors threatening to boycott the ceremony that they be patient, the statement having some clout coming from someone who wasn’t nominated himself this year.

The truth is Caine’s role in this movie does sound like a bit of an “Oscar role”, as do the rest of the elements of the movie sound like that sort of material.
Perhaps Caine’s not being nominated this year has to do with the academy awards’ often noted system of not so much celebrating the best works of each year, but rather allowing everyone to have their turn, an example being Jeff Bridge’s best actor win for Crazy Heart in 2010.
A solid performance, but not his best.

To be fair though; sitting at the centre of an array of characters, each with their own stories and journeys on which they travel within the confined world of the film’s Swiss Resort, is Michael Caine giving a very good performance.
In fact, the whole cast provide their best with no real surprises. Rachel Weisz is the stand out, giving a very subtle performance as Michael Caine’s daughter. In this role, she accomplishes a very impressive feat in adopting and reflecting some of the iconic Michael Caine mannerisms, without providing a single trace of anything that could be described as a “Michael Caine impression”.

Another performance worth mentioning is Jane Fonda’s, which is a late show into the duration. This is something that perhaps could have been reserved as a surprise role as opposed to how her role has been marketed as top billing, along with her face on the poster. This is, however, a minor note.

The thing about Youth is that, while it provides very likeable and perfectly endearing characters, and a solid premise and setting worthy of spending time in, the film ends up wearing quite thin through its run.
Starting off strong enough, the film establishes an ambience and slightly surreal sense of drama while slowly developing a somewhat refreshing sense of humour. Unfortunately, the film chooses a more serious and dramatic tone as it continues, giving little support to the humourous elements.

Without giving anything away, the more comedic elements provide small subplots that do conclude with a couple of quirky surprises, throughout the duration of the film.
Yet they feel out of place as, each time, the film falls back into a more po-faced demeanor.

A solution to this would have been perhaps to have made a more whimsical and lighter movie. While the potential risk of diminishing the seriousness of the film’s themes of age, death and the fragility of memory and meaning are evident, it would made for a more engaging and welcoming viewing.
To be somewhat blunt, the film drags in the second half and you feel its two hour length.

Despite the pace and tone however, the film is held together by its intrinsic ideas and characters, both of which are very good. There’s nothing at all to fault about this film, structurally. And while it’s tricky to recommend, it’s probably worth seeing if you are at all curious.
Youth is conceptually sound, albeit a bit taxing.
It’s also worth mentioning that, visually, it is very pleasing.

Ultimately, Youth is a film with some notable strengths but, unfortunately, it doesn’t play to those strengths. Some excellent performances and very good ideas; much like actual youth, it is beautiful and fragile, but unlike actual youth, it takes a bit too long to end.

Score: 3/5
Written by Seamus Hanly

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