VOD film review: Youth
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2016
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz
Watch Youth online in the UK: All 4 / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Four drops,” Mick (Keitel) tells Fred (Caine), as the pair of 70-something friends compare their ability to urinate. “Same,” comes the reply. “More or less.” Two old men talking about peeing? It’s the kind of thing you’d sooner associate with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel than the latest from Paulo Sorrentino, director of the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty. But that’s what Youth is: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for snobs.
The hotel? A fancy resort, complete with live music, swimming pool and fine dining. The location? Not the hustle and bustle of an Indian city, but the cool, remote class of the foot of the Alps. It’s here that Fred Ballinger, famous composer and conductor, has come to get away from famous composing and conducting – and where veteran director Mick has come to plan his latest movie with a gaggle of energetic young writers.
What follows is a quaint and largely familiar series of exchanges and vignettes – Mick and Fred hang around in the dining room, betting on whether another elderly couple will actually talk to each other, while Mick’s daughter (the ever-effervescent Rachel Weisz) deals with the collapse of one relationship and the possibility of another. But if that sounds like a run-of-the-mill comedy of manners, it’s wrapped up in the classiest package possible: Sorrentino’s composition is as elegant and stunning as always, from a Fellini-esque daytime shot that sees Mick surrounded by his ex-muses to a gorgeous nighttime shot that sees Fred strolling through a flooded Venice.
The most jaw-dropping thing on display, though, is Michael Caine. The actor, who has long been a master of the close-up, is perfect for the role of the downbeat retiree, his face cycling through emotions in every moment of quiet stillness. It’s a joy, meanwhile, to see him and Keitel showing off their grumpy charisma, for all the world like Statler and Waldorf, if The Muppets were actually a tragedy. The duo whine about all the exuberant characters around them, reflecting on their lost loves and lust. But there’s a melancholic undercurrent to the humour. One conversation with the Queen’s Emissary (the hilarious Alex Macqueen), in many ways the climax of the film, is played for pathos as much as giggles, while another scene in a hot tub with a Miss Universe winner is less pervy and more poignant, as the two are pathetically dazed by the sight of someone so young and beautiful. A standout encounter with Mick’s former diva (a catty Jane Fonda) spits with bile.
Fame, success, looks. It’s all to be lamented, in Mick and Fred’s eyes – the repeated appearance of Paul Dano as an actor trying to put together his next role is a nice touch. And if the script is occasionally a little too on-the-nose in its absurd humour or philosophical reflection, that’s no huge shame; if anything, it makes Youth more accessible to mainstream audiences than Sorrentino’s Oscar winner. There is great beauty to be found here too, with Caine and Keitel bringing decades of nuance to the conventional premise. The result is a witty, sad and often warm meditation on ageing and death. Halfway through, Fred sits down to listen to the birds and the cows. Soon, he’s conducting them all in a virtuosic symphony of nature. You wouldn’t find that in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Youth is available on All 4 until 23rd September 2021.