Films like Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth are something of a reminder of living life to the fullest and accepting the inevitable truth: we are all going to grow up and die as time goes on. Michael Caine’s Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel’s Mick Boyle are two longtime friends who decide to retreat to the Swiss Alps for some much-needed relaxation. Ballinger’s daughter/personal assistant Lena, played by Rachel Weisz, tags along with the two as well. Fred is an acclaimed composer/conductor with no intention of getting back into the game due to “personal reasons,” despite the Queen of England’s request of having him perform for her. Mick is a renowned filmmaker who brings his team of writers along with him to finish the screenplay for what he thinks will be his “last important film.” Lena is married to Mick’s son though the relationship is on the fritz. She resents her father and has a lot of emotions bottled up within in regards to the way he took care of her. Actor Jimmy Tree, played by Paul Dano, is also staying at the hotel while he tries to prepare for his latest acting job. Everyone at the hotel ends up reflecting on their lives in some way, shape or form, and it’s in these reflections that the movie hits heights that I didn’t expect it to hit.
It’s easy to pass this off as nothing more than an “old people” movie due to its two leading men. The film itself is so much more than that. Sure the prime focuses are Caine and Keitel’s characters, but the movie features many other characters, both old and young, who are in the Alps to relax and have some fun. It isn’t just about two older men looking to vacate and admire the life they’ve lived. The movie, rather, is about how a group of people staying at a beautiful hotel in a beautiful part of the world find their ways of reclaiming their youthful spirits and feel, well, young. Sorrentino captures this essence powerfully and delivers a superb film chock-full of laughs, drama, and well-crafted characters with precision and grace.
Veteran actors Caine and Keitel give two of the best performances of their decade-spanning career in this movie. Not only do the two share some incredibly funny and very poignant scenes together, but their character arcs separately are very fleshed and have a lot more substance than one would expect. One scene that stands out, in particular, involves a heated discussion between Caine’s Henry Ballinger and a representative for the Queen of England. On paper, it could seem that the emotions coming from the characters aren’t very authentic, but the way Caine pulls off his performance in this scene allows the scene to work wonders and adds quite the amount of depth to his character. Keitel’s final scene in the movie is also quite poignant to encounter. Without spoiling anything, both of these scenes are incredibly emotional and somewhat subtle, making the overall outcome of what happens in them stronger and more effective. Another veteran actor, Jane Fonda, has a small role in the movie, and she too is very good in her bit part. Having said that, the performance Fonda gives feels like nothing compared to the incredible work Caine and Keitel give here.
Two performances that aren’t quite as great as the former two but still deserve mentioning are the ones given by Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano. Weisz’s portrayal of Ballinger’s daughter Lena is raw and relatable. In a sense, anyone could see themselves in her shoes because of her life getting washed down the drain. Everybody knows what it feels like when it seems everything that could go wrong is going wrong, and yet the main source of all of this is unknown. Paul Dano’s Jimmy Tree is in a very similar spot actually, as he wants to venture off and become a more versatile actor but is only recognized by fans for playing a robot on a TV show. Both characters on the outside may seem self-centered and unlikable, but as the movie goes on it’s shown that they’re complex characters with a lot more realism than the surface may show.
Aside from a couple of things not being explained well, mostly involving the final scene of the movie, as well as a rather horrible green screen effect used towards the end, there isn’t anything else negative to say about Youth. There are people out there who won’t enjoy the film as much as I did, as there were people who booed the movie at its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Some may even complain that it drags and it feels like something catered towards the 55+ crowd. To me, this wasn’t made solely for a specific age group: this is a movie for people who want to know how to “live” again. Being cooped up in a room doing nothing but eating food and watching Netflix shows can get boring, and Youth is something of a reminder to get off your ass and live life to the fullest. Another movie that came out this year, Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, had this identical effect. Although, I do feel like this film emulated this better.
Paolo Sorrentino has crafted one hell of a moving movie. The acting is incredible, and the chemistry between Caine and Keitel makes a lot of the scenes they share work wonders. The cinematography is stellar and so damn gorgeous to look at, especially when the camera focuses on these long shots of the mountains and scenery of the Alps. Sorrentino’s script is chock full of sharp humor and incredibly heartbreaking/poignant moments that make this hit closer to home than one may expect. His direction as well gets the best performances out of his actors and gives him the ability to tell this great story with ease. Fox Searchlight may be campaigning this for Awards Season this year, but it seems like their main focus is on John Crowley’s Brooklyn. While Brooklyn is more digestible and is a very well made film on its own merits, Youth has more of a subtle and raw quality to it. That, to me, makes it a much stronger and more impactful piece of work. It might not appeal to everyone, but to me, Youth is a wonderful look at people regaining their youthfulness while dealing with the fact that death and growing up is inevitable.