From the previews, Youth looks like Cocoon minus the glowing aliens, a goofy old coot movie with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel leering at pretty ladies in the swimming pool and complaining about their prostates. In actuality, it is far from being anything like Cocoon and, with the exception of some darkly humorous laughs and, yes, a couple of prostate jokes, not something I would classify as a comedy.
Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino isn’t interested in pleasantries or pulling punches. His movie is a beautifully brutal, almost dangerously honest take on artists and artists growing old. It’s also just a little bit crazy at times, to a point where maybe I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if crazy aliens sprang up from the bottom of the swimming pool. Caine, in one of the best and most quietly understated performances of his career, plays retired composer Fred Ballinger.
Fred is on holiday at a dreamy Switzerland resort with his daughter and assistant, Lena (Rachel Weisz, delivering the goods), and his film director friend, Mick Boyle (Keitel, basically reminding you that he is still awesome). I’ll say that word brutal again, because that’s what this film is. The beauty of Sorrentino’s film is that these brutal moments are handled in nuanced, subdued fashion. Many of the characters will not have happy endings. As an aging actress who has a caustic message for Mick, Jane Fonda shows up late in the movie and simply delivers one of the greatest scenes of her career. Adding to the wonderful sound of the actors speaking their rich dialogue would be a score by David Lang that is every ounce as beautiful as the stunning camerawork by Luca Bigazzi. Sorrentino is apparently a big Fellini fan, something most evident in the film’s finale.