What an often breathtaking film this is. Youth embraces you in a warm, mysterious hug, and never lets go. With tremendous acting, gorgeous visuals, and a hypnotic melancholy, this is something very unique. I fell under the spell that writer/director Paolo Sorrentino was casting early on and it lasted throughout its entire running time. This is such a well acted, well shot, and emotional movie that I’m almost shocked that it’s not more beloved by pundits than it already is. I suspect that audiences are going to really like this one, especially if they’ve enjoyed the prior works of Sorrentino (this is the first time he blew me away though, so there’s hope for everyone). Led by an absolutely outstanding performance by Michael Caine, along with top tier supporting work from Harvey Keitel that I’ll be praising just as much shortly, this is something kind of special folks. It’s the sort of thing that sneaks up on you over the course of its just under two hour running time. I loved Youth and suspect that it will be in heavy contention for a spot on my year end top ten list. Yes, it’s that good. When it’s funny, it’s very funny. When it’s moving, it’s very moving. It’s a full independent film meal, as it were. An awards contender and a deeply satisfying flick overall, Youth is definitely one not to miss.
The movie takes place at a high end resort in the Alps. Retired orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger (Caine) goes on holiday there every year, seemingly often with his best friend, legendary film director Mick Boyle (Keitel), who is working on a new movie with a collection of writers. This year, Fred’s daughter Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) has joined them. She’s married to Mick’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard), though that dissolves during this vacation. Also on hand at the resort is noted American actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), whom Fred befriends due to his very calm and contemplative nature. Mostly, Fred and Mick spend a lot of time talking. Two events change the perspectives that the old men have on the world. One is that Queen Elizabeth II sends an emissary (Alex Macqueen) with an invitation for Fred to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday. The other is that Mick’s longtime star of his films Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) comes to visit him with news. Through those events, we learn a lot about both men, along with seeing how they come to change/not change afterwards. It’s subtle stuff, but always incredibly compelling to witness.
I can’t say enough about the cast assembled here for Youth. The quartet of Michael Caine, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, and Rachel Weisz makes for one of the best small ensembles of the year so far. They all do top notch work, with Caine, Dano, Fonda, and Keitel especially doing some of their best ever. Caine is the lead here and his internal nature has you always wondering about what’s come before we met him. A scene in which the emissary visits a second time leads to an amazing moment from Caine, one that had me in tears. Weisz is strong in that scene as well, since we’re mentioning it. Keitel hasn’t been this good in a very long time. You buy him as an older filmmaker and his arc is probably the most complete one in the film. Some of his moments are just so tender. Dano looks the part of a Johnny Depp type here, but he makes the role all his own, especially when you see what part he was preparing to play. Fonda has a one scene cameo, but it’s a firecracker of a scene. In addition to the aforementioned Alex Macqueen and Ed Stoppard, the cast also includes Paloma Faith, Robert Seethaler, and more. Caine is best in show, but again…Dano, Fonda, and Keitel aren’t far behind.
Filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino creates one of the most beautiful looking movies of the year here. The flick is absolutely gorgeous, with cinematographer Luca Bigazzi deserving a ton of praise. Along with composer David Lang, they help create the environment that Sorrentino wants to cultivate. The look, sound, and feel of the film is outstanding. Sorrentino gets those wonderful performances from his cast too, which I loved. The direction is artful but never pretentious, while the script is a beautiful work as well. At times it can begin to meander, but that was a small issue for me. Nothing to prevent my love of the work from shining through. Oddly enough, some parts of Youth resemble Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), but I’d actually go so far as to say that I prefer this one to that one.
When you get right down to it, Youth is an art film, but it’s an accessible art film that’s easy to love. I suspect that it will come very close to making my Best of 2015 list, if it doesn’t just lock up a spot once I see the year’s last few contenders. It’s a special movie that I think indie fans will love. A potential Oscar contender for the cast members, this is much more than an awards hopeful, trust me there. Youth is a wonderful experience and I hope you all make it your business to seek it out…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!