Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Opens December 4
“It’s going. I don’t know where, but it’s going.” That line, spoken in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, is a good description of the movie, except for the first part. Youth does not exactly go, and that’s at least in part by design. It takes place entirely at a posh-looking hotel and spa that I nonetheless initially took for a posh retirement home, because the characters we zero in on are Fred Ballenger (Michael Caine), a retired conductor and composer, and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), an elderly film director, old friends (and in-laws, by marriage of their children) who meet to discuss their daily urine output and continue their ongoing bet over whether a couple at a nearby dining table will speak to each other.
But eventually the coed nudity tips you off: these men are just on vacation, albeit of the seemingly open-ended variety. Fred seems more settled in than Mick, who brings along a team of screenwriters as vacation accessories, workshopping his next project. Fred, meanwhile, reluctantly mulls over an offer from the Queen of England to conduct a performance of his most famous work. Sorrentino’s immaculate compositions do have a way of making the actors look like guests in this fancy production, full of seemingly endless hot springs and heated pools, and it’s an appropriate effect, if somewhat anesthetized.
Indeed, moment for moment, Youth is often beautiful. Cumulatively, it’s a bit of a snore, even though the supporting cast includes Rachel Weisz, as Caine’s daughter; Paul Dano, oddly but amusingly cast as a movie star; and Jane Fonda, who drops by for a single scene opposite Keitel where they both call things “shit” a lot, and for which she has apparently become an inexplicable Oscar contender. There’s a certain musicality to Sorrentino’s images, like his recurring shots of the various in-house entertainers at the hotel, fixed on a revolving stage so that the blurry backgrounds appear to revolve behind the performers.
At one point, he also shows a bit of a music video with a pop star character. The “character” is actual international pop star Paloma Faith, playing herself, but and unless I’ve wildly overestimated Sorrentino’s exacting compositions, the video is his, and shows about as much intuitive satirical understanding of the form as Olivier Assayas showed in his excerpt of a Hollywood sci-fi franchise movie in Clouds of Sils Maria. Actually, a lot of Youth—ruminations on old age; beautiful locations; characters speaking dialogue that doesn’t always sound like native English—brings to mind Sils Maria, only without the excellent Binoche and Stewart performances at its center to excuse the vague feeling that something has been lost in translation. Instead, Caine and Keitel are mildly soulful, and kind of passive. Keitel seems to remain in Wes Anderson mode, and Sorrentino’s just-so compositions recall Anderson too (they’re roughly contemporaries). Anderson’s movie gave us a Grand Budapest Hotel in an elegiac dream-Europe wounded by the realities of war. Sorrentino’s movie made me really want a massage, a hot soak, or maybe a refreshing nap.