Youth

 photo youth_zpsms70uyzu.jpg photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgYouth is the latest claptrap from director Paolo Sorrentino. I’m sorry, we’re already off to a bad start. Would “pretentious nonsense” be more charitable? This is the filmmaker’s followup to The Great Beauty, the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2013. I tolerated that picture. It was gorgeously photographed but its lack of a strong narrative made it a chore to watch. Honestly that’s exactly the problem with Youth, but multiplied by 10. If I can say anything nice about this production, it’s that Sorrentino has found a cinematographer par excellence in Luca Bigazzi. Luca deserves to work, and often. Everything else is an endurance test that taxes the very limits of patience.

The story is structured around a luxurious European spa in the Swiss Alps where random episodes occur. Commenting on all this are lifelong friends in their 70s. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a composer and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is a director. It was actor Lewis Stone who wryly observed that “People come and go. Nothing ever happens” in Grand Hotel, 1932’s Best Picture winner. The sarcastic joke was, things really DO happen in the Grand Hotel. I wish someone had said that here, because at least I’d give the script some points for truth in advertising.

Shall we talk about that screenplay? It’s a positively horrendous creation full of stilted dialogue and unfocused ideas. The conversations are so unnaturally awkward it sounds as if people are literally reading the words for the first time from a teleprompter off stage. Incidentally this is Sorrentino’s second English-language film. My theory is that it was originally written in Italian and then translated by a high school intern. It does no favors to the famous cast. British pop star Paloma Faith is playing the part of British pop star Paloma Faith and she’s not very convincing in the role.  Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, and Paul Dano do their best, but poor Harvey Keitel, who I truly respect as an actor, fares the worst.

This rarely happens, but I genuinely felt sorrow for the actors in this movie. I shouldn’t because it appears some awards will come of it anyway. Which brings me to Jane Fonda, who pops up in a shameless cameo 2/3rds of the way in. She’s portraying this grande dame of the cinema, an aging actress in s blonde fright wig and heavy pancake makeup. Your go-to reference is “Norma Desmond” but I mean no disrespect to Gloria Swanson.  She was flawless in that role. Jane however delivers a desperate, attention grabbing performance that screams “Give me another Academy Award!” Dear Jane, you’ve been nominated 7 times before and won twice. Was the lure of the spotlight that irresistible? Ultimately what makes her performance notable is that she manages to say “sh–” half a dozen times in the span of a mere 7 minutes. Impressive.

Youth is precisely the kind of pompous film that gives arthouse a bad name. There is no plot. Only a coterie of quirky individuals. There is a lot of naked elderly people. Two people fornicate against a tree. We get a grotesquely obese footballer in a tiny bathing suit and an insanely gorgeous Miss Universe from Brazil wearing nothing at all. Caine and Keitel lust over her in the pool and you can feel the director ogling her as well. Everyone laments their dreary future through uninteresting monologues. You see existentialism isn’t just a philosophical theory, it’s a self absorbed way of life. This pseudo Fellini-esque satire pontificates about aging like the script just granted you with some noble truth. Now it’s impatiently waiting for a thank you. I won’t reveal who, but someone does commit suicide. Anything to get out of this production, right? I will say this. Jane Fonda carps that “Human beings really know how to be pathetic when they want to be”. Bless her. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

11-27-15

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29 Responses to “Youth”

  1. Sounds like I’m better off just staring at the poster.

  2. A Tale of Two Dans Says:

    Too bad you didn’t like it. I loved the cinematography and performances. I also felt the story was actually quite good. But that’s the beauty of cinema, we can disagree sometimes.

    • I couldn’t discern a meaningful story. What was your take on the narrative?

      • A Tale of Two Dans Says:

        Well it was a coming of age story for the older people among us. Everyone wants to go back to the time they were young and that’s what these two men wanted to do. It also heavily featured the theme of friendship and how it greatly affects your life. I really like the ending as well, with the slight twist… but I feel it’s kind of like Birdman. Some people loved it others hated it. Not many are inbetween

  3. Oh my god you really disliked this movie. Wow. It’s been a while since we’ve disagreed this much on a movie. I think the last time was actually Man of Steel, two and a half years ago.

    As you know I loved the movie…I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Lol.

  4. This is being thrown around as a possible Oscar film, correct? Hard to see how with your well-written review. I’ve heard a little about it, but it sounds so bizarre and not even worth a view for its acting. If it comes to Columbus, I think I may just stay away 🙂

    • I expect nominations for Michael Caine and Jane Fonda. It’s total Oscar bait with its pseudo intellectual posturing on grand themes such as aging, memory and love.

      But this is a bunch of hogwash and I’m using a much nicer word than it deserves.

  5. I saw Youth back in October at the Twin Cities Film Festival in Minneapolis. While I didn’t dislike the film to the degree that Mark did, I was clearly disappointed. I went in expecting a couple of nice turns from Caine and Keitel and I got that. I went in expecting some grand visuals – and I got that too.

    What I didn’t get was a compelling story that was both involving and rewarding. And this is what Mark is saying. Sorrentino and his cinematographer are each quite skilled – but the screenplay is centered around a series of shocking turns and bold visuals – all of which lead one to conclude that film has no heart

    Now the theater was quite filled as this was a highlight film at the TCFF. But when the lights came up, and the crowd began to leave, it was eerily silent. No one was laughing about the just concluded experience as it wasn’t joyful. There was no buzz, and no excitement in the air.

    In my own review, I compared the experience of seeing Youth and the experience of seeing Brooklyn also at the TCFF. Youth was a big film that lacked heart, and Brooklyn was a small film that was all about heart.

    Youth was cold and calculated. Brooklyn was warm and touching. If you see a film and exit the theater and cannot say that the film created feelings in you that you appreciate, then it follows, that the film is flawed.

    • I really like your comment because it gets to the heart of what one looks for in the experience of watching a movie. Brooklyn and Youth and pretty much on the polar extremes of the enjoyment scale — for me anyway. I love the uplifting, heartwarming experience of Brooklyn as much as I hated the calculated, excessively self-indulgent nature of Youth.

      To put it another way, Brooklyn was the odor of banana bread baking. Youth was a vat of fermented cabbage. Different smells. That might be pleasant for some, but not for me.

  6. Nice review Mark. That’s disappointing to hear. I was a big fan of Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty but truthfully haven’t heard much about Youth. It’s a shame as it has a great cast too.

  7. This review has me intrigued. I’m definitely going to put this on my list of films to see.

    • Have you had a chance to see it?

      • Unfortunately, I haven’t! I’ve had so much going on lately, I completely forgot. Thanks for the reminder though, I actually really want to see this one.

      • Comes to DVD on March 1, 2016

      • Considering it more closely, I think your review of this film kind of reminded me of Altman’s “3 Women,” which I love unironically. Lack of plot doesn’t bother me in film, as long as there are other strong structural elements to make up for it. Intentionally eschewing plot and story is a pretty risky move for filmmakers though, because if they don’t step up their game in other ways, the movie will come off very pretentiously.

      • Lack of plot doesn’t bother me either, but the nonsense here that the director chooses to film instead, does. I loved My Dinner with Andre for example, and that was just two people talking.

      • Right. And I make it a point to see films that make an attempt at unconventional structure, because I never know what will hit me in that certain way to make me love it. I’ve ended up liking or loving a lot of stuff that my favorite critics absolutely hated. When I get around to seeing it, I’ll definitely check back in with my singular, insignificant opinion. I just hope that if I end up liking it I’ll be able to mount a convincing argument as to why!

      • Ha! Given its critical acclaim, it would seem the “burden of proof” would be mine, but regardless, I hope you do enjoy it. I would never want anyone detest a film just becasue I did. Interested inhearing your thoughts. 🙂

  8. this really disappointed me too. not the biggest fan because the story was dull despite good acting!

  9. Wow. Nice review though I raved about it in my review. To each their own I guess, that’s what makes reviews interesting to read. Personally, I loved the art-house nature of it and felt that there were meaningful things that Sorrentino conveyed.

  10. I was NOT a fan of this. I do not like those “art-y” poses of people just standing there or moving slowly. Ugh. Story was just boring. Not a fan. 1 1/2 stars

  11. Hahaha. I’m so glad we can agree about YOUTH being pretentious nonsense. I can’t stand movies in this vein, so even though I haven’t seen The Great Beauty, I’m sure that I would also find it to be a chore. At least the cinematography is beautiful? You’re right that the screenplay is stilted dialogue and unfocused ideas. Probably due to the translation. Unlike you though, I actually enjoyed the performances, particularly Jane Fonda in her batty role and Harvey Keitel, who brought a measured sadness to his part. Such pointed analysis and critique in the closing of your review. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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