A film with a title as broad as Youth can't help but promise some big expectations for itself. Add in headlining stars like Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel and Academy Award winner Paolo Sorrentino behind the helm, and this movie practically screams "PLEASE NOMINATE ME". It is that time of year, after all. Unfortunately, Youth lacks real substance and in the end becomes a visually stunning, well-acted piece.
Having won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013 for The Great Beauty (a film I'll admit I haven't seen), Sorrentino's follow-up clearly had expectations. Youth revolves around retired orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger (Caine) and his friend Mick Boyle (Keitel) and daughter (Rachel Weisz) as he takes his holiday at an extravagant spa in Switzerland. He learns that the Queen wants to give him a knighthood and have him conduct his most famous "Simple Songs" for her, but he refuses on personal grounds.
Michael Caine is wonderful in this role, full of both charm and woe. It's clear that Fred, in his old age, seems troubled by his past decisions and experiences, and it's only through the film that we learn what these troubles are through his conversations with his daughter. Meanwhile his friend Mick refuses to look anywhere but full steam ahead, working on a new script and acting as if nothing has changed.
Caine, as an everyman, adds an element of accessibility to this otherwise lavish film that I found incredibly refreshing. I held on to his character to not get lost in the fluff of everything else. And I do mean fluff. The film is visually stunning, full of extravagant tableaus reminiscent of neoclassical paintings. Nude bodies, naturally found in this spa resort setting, are arranged in listless poses in dramatic lighting. While nice to look at, it felt a little too thrust in my face too often to feel naturally contemplative.
The resort seems like another world, a place completely removed from reality and full of quirky characters. Filmed differently, it's a set up for a wacky sitcom. One of these characters is an obese, aging Latino who bears a striking resemblance to Diego Maradona, one of the most famous and controversial soccer players in the world. Maradona is known for winning Argentina the World Cup in 1986, including illegally netting a goal in the quarterfinals by punching the ball into the net, later dubbed the "Hand of God" goal. Yes, that was your international soccer lesson for the day. No, it doesn't really matter that you know any of that. His appearance is intriguing even if you have no clue that this man may be Diego Maradona.
Besides being nice to look at and well acted, Youth just felt too pretentious for me to really appreciate its message. At some point, I just don't have a ton of empathy for these aging, rich white men vacationing in the Alps and contemplating the many decisions, good and bad, they've made in their long lives. Caine's likeable nature and dry, morose wit kept me engaged, but I certainly didn't leave the theater blown away.