Youth is one of those films which makes me glad that I don’t assign star ratings to my reviews. On one hand I think Paolo Sorrentino’s film is a pretentious and pervy look at old age. On the other, it’s a touching tale of old friends and their relationship. So how do you get that across in stars?
It’s also a film that doesn’t lend itself to being summed up in a few pithy sentences. It follows Michael Caine’s Fred Ballinger, a famous composer who is spending his summer at a Swiss hotel in the Alps. He’s joined by a cast of people that includes everyone from his close friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) to an aging footballer who bears a startling resemblance to a certain Maradona (pot belly and all) to Miss Universe. The film opens with Ballinger rejecting an invitation from the Queen, to play his ‘Simple Songs’ at Prince Philip’s birthday concert, for personal reasons.
When the films at its best it is a simple character piece. It is Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel walking through beautiful scenery discussing life and memory and where it all went wrong. Their conversations aren’t taxing but they are pleasant to listen to, and you can’t help but enjoy their company.
That is until they turn into a pair of pervy old men. Following couples into the woods to watch them have sex and gawping at Miss Universe as she swims in the pool. It’s an attitude that pervades the whole film. Sorrentino seems to have an obsession with the naked form, constantly holding it in camera for no apparent reason. To be fair to him, he’s not selective in who he chooses to perv on. Young or old. Male or female. You are open for business, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is at times slightly uncomfortable.
What’s less uncomfortable, but equally frustrating, is the pretension that rings through this film. For every beautiful moment where Michael Caine sits and conducts nature, there are several more where he gazes off into the distance contemplating life. For every real feeling conversation with his daughter, played nicely by Rachel Weisz, there is one with his actor friend (Paul Dano) that makes you want to be sick.
And that’s not even the worst thing in the film, which is somehow reserved for Paloma Faith, who turns up in a cameo and is apparently completely incapable of playing herself. Seriously, she is awful.
Youth is an eighty-minute film stretched to two hours. What could have been a nice little experience following Caine in his older years, playing a character with a lot more nuance than most of his recent roles, turns into a bloated mess. There are things here to enjoy, but there is too much of the over stuff that it prevents you truly embracing this film