Youth review: a vague, beautiful-looking meditation on . . . well, what exactly?
Michael Caine. Harvey Keitel. Jane Fonda. Rachel Weisz. Paul Dano - the great cast ultimately becomes marginalised by the busyness of Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth. Photograph: Gianni Fiorito/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Film Title: Youth
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Paloma Faith
Running Time: 118 min
It’s all go at an exclusive Swiss resort where an ageing composer-conductor (Michael Caine) debates whether or not to accept an offer to play for Queen Elizabeth II. His best friend (Harvey Keitel), a film-maker, works with a team of screenwriters and awaits the arrival of his lead actress and former muse (Jane Fonda).
Meanwhile, the husband of the maestro’s daughter (Rachel Weisz), runs off with Paloma Faith. A young actor (Paul Dano) observes and smiles wryly from the sidelines. Miss Universe arrives and struts about in the nip. Cue a whole lot of problematic male gazing.
There’s more: a portly Diego Maradona displays mad skills with a tennis ball. A Buddhist monk levitates. A recurring gag sees Keitel and his screenwriters attempt to find a great last line for a film he feels will be his testament.
The same might be said of everything in Youth, where every exchange reaches for a bon mot and every shot goes for razzle dazzle. It’s all crescendo all of the time. Whither variation among the big-arsed brushstrokes?
One couldn’t claim that the ravishingly beautiful new film from Paolo Sorrentino was short on incident or celebrity or humour: even the lookalikes make for good, clean fun. But the picture’s grandiloquence does not make for coherence.
Too often, Youth feels like a blooper reel from Sorrentino’s previous Felliniesque riff. If you loved The Great Beauty, it cries, then you might quite like this extended redux package of alternative takes and previously unseen footage.
Many scenes demand more patient treatment: a stand-off between Fonda and Keitel does not give either great actor much space to act. Many other scenes, including an imagined bevy of beautiful women on a hillside, are not remedied or reconstructed by a postmodern sheen.
Caine and Keitel give us cause to mourn the top buddy picture that never quite emerges. And even these talents are marginalised by the film’s overall busyness. Expect cinephiles to squabble – and for puzzled detractors to greatly outnumber Youth’s die-hard defenders.