By Christian DiMartino
Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is probably the funniest drama I have seen in some time. Mixing the two isn’t always a simple task. Here, I laughed to a point where I almost forgot that Sorrentino was going for a drama. Is that a flaw? No, it’s called a balancing act, and by the end, the balance feels completely worth it.
Make no mistake though: What Sorrentino is selling here is no comedy. In fact, trying to figure out just what he’s selling here adds to the intrigue, as this is a film that could be interpreted a few different ways. Whatever that may be, I say that Youth is among the year’s best.
Fred (Michael Caine, the best use of him in some time) is an aging composer vacationing with his filmmaker friend, Mick (Harvey Keitel, again, the best use in a while) and his daughter Leda (Rachel Weisz, once again, same) in the Swiss Alps. Mick is determined to direct another smash, hence why he has a few screenwriters tagged along with him. Leda holds some resentment toward her father, who abandoned her mother some time ago.
While vacationing, Fred receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to play for Prince Philip’s birthday. Fred immediately refuses. As to why I will let you see for yourself.
There may not be much in the way of story in Youth, but yet as I thought of how to describe it, so much came to mind. It’s a film in which the actions speak louder than words. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much. On screen, however, it is well worth your while.
For a film with a title like Youth, it left me wondering what Sorrentino was trying to say. From what I gathered, it seems as if he is telling a story about two men who have peaked. Mick has peaked, but he doesn’t want to let it go, hence why he is trying to keep going. Fred, on the otherhand, is long since retired, and probably feels no need to return, as he has done enough. It is a fascinating contrast, and after seeing Youth, it is a unique one to ponder over.
The acting in this film is utterly spectacular. Caine and Keitel, two great veteran actors, give their best performances in years. It feels as if with recent roles they’ve just been thrown into secondary roles, but Sorrentino puts their magnificent talents to good use. The same goes to Weisz, who really hits a home run in a particular scene in which she confronts her father.
And there is no forgetting Jane Fonda’s performance as an aging starlet who tells Mick like it is. Fonda is only in this movie for about ten minutes, but yet it’s her juiciest ten minutes in decades. Believe the Oscar buzz people. She has such an impact in that ten minutes that you want an encore, and then some. Despite the size of her role, she is, in her own way, a pivotal part of the story, as I feel as if she summarizes just what Sorrentino is trying to capture.
There are times, again, where I had no clue what Sorrentino was trying to capture, such as an odd sequence where Paul Dano, who plays an actor trying to shake off a robot role he regrets, dresses up as Hitler and walks around the hotel. Maybe I spaced out, who knows.
But the cinematography is dreamy. The screenplay is wonderfully written, and the dramatic notes hit you right where it hurts. This is unconventional filmmaking at its finest.
There have been a lot of prestige pictures this year, if you haven’t noticed. Hence why Youth will probably go unrecognized. But even with all of those large pictures throughout the year, at the end of the year, sometimes it’s the small ones that matter most. This is one of those cases.