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Youth – Review


Release Date: 4 December 2015 [USA]
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine - Harvey Keitel - Rachel Weisz



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Posted February 1, 2016 by

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Youth Review:

Sir Michael Caine may not have that many opportunities to play the lead in a movie, but writer-director Paolo Sorrentino gives him his most promising shot at the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar in years – why he didn’t get nominated for The Swarm is beyond me. Only the American Academy didn’t bite. Now other cockney knights of the cinema might start a hashtag #OscarSoShite but the twice winner of the Best Supporting Actor award is gracious even when being ignored. The big fat cheque he got for Now You See Me 2 was a nice consolation.

If Youth were in Italian and didn’t star Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano or Rachel Weisz, it would probably be up for the Award for Best Film Not in the English Language. So I recommend that for his next project, Sorrentino reverse-engineers the film into his native tongue – the opposite of what Michael Haneke did for Funny Games. Sorrentino’s next project is, in point of fact, The Young Pope, a mini-series for HBO starring Diane Keaton and Jude Law.

Youth is not, as the British poster suggests, Caine and co-star Jane Fonda’s long-awaited follow-up to California Suite, a 1978 Neil Simon comedy set in a hotel, though it is set in a spa, so you’re pretty close. Caine plays retired composer-conductor Fred Ballinger – did Sorrentino look at a bottle of champagne and mispronounce it? Fred is on an extended vacation with his daughter (Weisz) and film director best friend, Mick (Keitel) who happens to be working on a script. Incidentally, who – besides the employees – works at a spa? Fred is asked to perform for Her Majesty The Queen, specifically his ‘Simple Songs’ – Prince Philip can’t get enough of them, apparently, though I reckon he secretly likes Radiohead. Fred declines for ‘personal reasons’. The way Caine pronounces ‘personal reasons’ is to lift his voice ever so slightly. Come on, that’s got to be worth something, Academy Voters. By the end of the film, we discover what those ‘personal reasons’ are, although we don’t really, as Sorrentino doesn’t like to explain his characters.

Youth is Sorrentino’s second English language film about a musician, though to be honest I’m more partial to Sean Penn in a wig in This Must Be The Place, in which he too did something to his voice. As in This Must Be The Place, which concerns Penn’s emotionally fragile musician joining the hunt for an aged Nazi, Youth also introduces Adolf Hitler into the narrative in a totally unexpected, slightly surreal way.

Fred spends a lot of time not talking about his ‘personal reasons’, or indeed helping his daughter who has been dumped in favour of a well-known celebrity – happens to the best of us. (As in This Must Be The Place, singers play themselves.) Fred hangs out with Mick, taking bets on whether an aged couple at another table will talk to each other and following them into the forest.

Sorrentino is just as interested in Mick the film director, struggling with his latest screenplay with a team of writers, as with Fred, and introduces us to the actor Jimmy Tree (Dano), best known for playing a robot. Jimmy appears to be studying the residents; the punch-line is unexpected and only slightly funny.

The unity of place makes Youth superficially more satisfying than the Sean Penn road movie, which also has an intentionally repetitive score (the similarities stack up). But it also has some quite sharp, occasionally beautiful scenes of spa life; Sorrentino has an eye for surrealism.

Why then is this a four star movie? Mainly because Sorrentino’s curiosity about his characters and the way they behave or refuse to behave makes his films alive. Youth is about the process by which people renew their vigour; only some of them pay several thousand Swiss francs to do so – and to listen to cover versions while they’re about it.

For Fred, the spa is a place where he and his late wife took their annual vacation, and where he holidays with Mick; but the more you think about it the set up doesn’t make sense – hence three stars for the writing. The film is beautiful to watch, well-acted and goes down easy. It is the sort of movie you would watch in a spa, funnily enough, before a final colonic irrigation. Tomorrow night: Irrational Man.


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Larry Oliver
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