Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on January 16, 2016 @ tonymacklin.net.
Youth is a hodgepodge of music and dissonance. It's not a fraud, but it certainly isn't as profound as it wants to be.
It's a film whose wavelength quivers.
The more one is able to get on the wavelength of a film, the better it should work for him or her. That's only the beginning. Still, it's crucial.
Wavelengths may be inviting, but they also can be disconcerting. I found Youth disconcerting. Some films deliver; some don't. Some don't deliver to you.
If you don't appreciate meandering figments on age and youth set to music, the film Youth probably is not for you.
Wavelengths matter. Mad Max: Fury Road is an apt example. If you don't like or appreciate furious, constant action with negligible dialogue, that film is probably going to be a loud shambles for you. [Its five writers must have each contributed one word.] But for some, it was the best film of the year. It has a 97 Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A friend of mine not only got on its wavelength, he got into its wavelength. He loved Mad Max: Fury Road. He felt like he was watching "a punk rock band." That's a hell of a wavelength.
A very different film is Carol, which also has its own wavelength. If you don't like or appreciate characters beyond your literal experience, you're probably going to think Carol is a waste. And even if you empathize with the characters, it may disappoint you. Someone I know, who I thought should affirm the film, thought the sex was too graphic. The wavelength broke. But for some - including me - Carol was one the best films of 2015.
In films, ego often is in generous supply. Artists and hacks often exhibit expansive egos. Sam Peckinpah's ego led to artistry. Michael Bay's doesn't.
In Youth, director Paolo Sorrentino has created a huge sheet of disparate music, but his characters are muted, and his language is disposable. Ego prevails. With a soupcon of banality.
Youth is the tale of a group of people in a Swiss spa. The main focus is on two old friends - composer/conductor Englishman Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his life-long buddy American director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). The 80-year old Ballinger is at the spa on vacation and getting physical tests, and Mick is with a group of young writers writing the screenplay for his next film.
The two aging men witness the antics and maneuvers of the people around them at the spa: Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), movie star Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea), soccer star gone to pot (Roly Serrano), et al. They are a collection of limited interest.
Fred has to deal with an emissary (Alex Macqueen) of Queen Elizabeth, who wants him to conduct his popular Simple Songs - "Simple Song #3" - at a celebration of Prince Philip's birthday. He refuses. Does anyone in the movie audience have any question about how that is going to work out?
45-year old director Sorrentino tries to give us his insight on how old men behave. He has them discuss their drops of urine. Sorrentino as writer is not the equal of Sorrentino the fitful director. The music is intermittently engaging; the dialogue is not. Only a tender scene between Jimmy Tree and a young girl who understands his films has the ring of truth. Usually the dialogue is on the lines of Mick's comment, "Nothing like being in a tunnel to make you feel you're in a tunnel."
It's difficult to care about this pretentious group of characters.
Michael Caine brings a bit of genuineness to his character, but most of the time Fred is in dull rumination. Harvey Keitel is more lively as Mick, but he is forced to go through awkward paces. The actor who retains humanity the most is Paul Dano, channeling his Johnny Depp character. Dano gives a knowing smile and inquisitive spirit to his character that makes it more human than those around him. But even he drifts off. His character submits to a clumsy resolution.
Rachel Weisz weeps a lot, in a thankless role. And Jane Fonda has an awful one-note performance as the actress who has appeared in 11 of Mick's films. Fonda showed she can swear with aplomb in TV's Newsroom, but Sorrentino just provides her with bad dialogue. Hear Jane say "shit" again and again. What a performance.
If your wavelength likes fitful direction and bad dialogue, welcome to Youth.