Indie Film Review “Youth”

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First, the Recap:

Reflection.  A looking back upon one’s life–often to ascertain the highs and lows, the successes and failures–and then to judge the worthiness of what paths were chosen and decide, ultimately, what it all meant. Was it a fulfilled life? Or was it one tainted with regrets and unresolved conflicts? And is it too late to reconcile those aspects we wished had been done better? Retired maestro Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) ponders such things, even if in the most apathetic of ways as he spends a post-retirement vacation in the Alps with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and best friend, movie director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), who’s there with a team of younger writers creating what he believes will be his most epic film.

But when the idyllic setting is upended upon the arrival of the Queen’s Emissary (Alex Macqueen) asking Ballinger to come to London and conduct again, it sets off a series of events in all their lives that will impact the rest of the stay and turn a vacation into a time of taking stock about life, career, love, relationships, growing old, and seeing things through the eyes of other guests, including actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a young escort (Gabriella Belisario), a masseuse (Luna Mijovic), Mick’s muse Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), and even Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea).  But the consequences of choices made in the past as well as ones made in the present become a haunting reminder of the fragility of life’s road.

Next, my Mind:

For this reviewer, writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” should have been one of those absolutely excellent indie character pieces with serious depth and a heartfelt message about aging and the ups and downs of life.  While this was somewhat the case, the film moreso sinks into a darker, cynical bend that leaves the viewer feeling bludgeoned rather than buoyed. While it is understood life is not always pretty, the characters presented here totally fall apart, and everything that was positive ends up in shambles over the course of the story. Even the film’s finale, designed to put some hope into it all, falls blandly short. Add truly needless moments of overt nudity, sexual situations, and language, and it’s bogged down even more.

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are two of my personal favorite “older guard” actors, and both have presented amazing performances in film. But here, despite some instances of witty banter and serious drama, it feels like wasted talent here. Caine’s almost emotionless, indifferent Ballinger and Keitel’s driven but then broken Boyle have their moments of excellence, but really don’t end up completely engaging enough to fully invest in as their circumstances darken. It actually takes superb character actors Weisz and Dano to really add something to the overall effort as Ballinger’s daughter and fellow vacationer respectively, as at least their hard realizations about life come to a more happy conclusion.

Some beautiful cinematography is at least present to give some semblance of joy here, but that’s about where it stops. Again, we all can attest to the trials of existence, but would rather see some hope than feeling so emotionally worn out.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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