It took me a week to get through Youth, maybe more. Matt kept asking after me, like the movie was a virus I had to endure, to shake. He worried I was suffering, and with good reason: director Paolo Sorrentino’s previous work, The Great Beauty, was in fact a bit of a trial for me. Not that it wasn’t, well, a great beauty. It was. It was just also arduous and uppity. Sorrentino’s directorial trademarks include “oblique storytelling” and “partially obscure plots.” Is Youth more accessible? Sure. It is. But don’t worry: it isn’t without pretension.
If The Great Beauty was a treatise on the passage of time, what, then, is Youth? A testament to what is past? A longing and desire for vitality? The acknowledgement of our life’s work?
Michael Caine plays a composer\conductor who has hung up his baton, and not even the Queen herself can convince him to pick it up again. Harvey Keitel plays a film maker who is struggling to write his last great script, his magnum opus, his definitive work. The two are on vacation together in the Swiss Alps, comparing ailments, bemoaning their status, ruminating over mistakes, agonizing over decisions. Rachel Weisz plays daughter to Caine (and daughter-in-law to Keitel) – one who is freshly dumped, causing pain and anger to resurface. This makes for an actor’s showcase of emoting, but not much in the way of plot. Nothing happens: elderly naked people walk by, slowly, as slowly as the memories being recounted, like lazy clouds in a clear sky.
It is beautiful to look at. Caine proves that though his character may be ready to embrace retirement, he, the actor, is not. He’s brilliant, and he’s in good company. The best. But a collection of reminiscing characters does not a movie make. The latent aspect of the film began to feel claustrophobic to me. It’s like visiting your Gran at her retirement home: sure she’s a fascinating woman and you love her and want to pay your respects but OHMYFUCKINGGODGETMEOUTOFHERE.
You know what they say: Youth is wasted on the young.