Speaking of movies I went into some trepidation, after the morning viewing of Hotel Transylvania 2, I went to an evening show with The Boy to see Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth. We had both loved The Great Beauty, the last film of his to reach our shores, but the critics were much cooler on this.
Once again, we both loved it, though as The Boy commented rather pointedly, “I loved it; I wouldn’t recommend it to many people.” And sure enough, the Stepdad saw it:
“It was full of great technique.”
“Didn’t like it, huh.”
It is, like Beauty, a poetic film. There is a story arc, but it’s almost pointillism, with little vignettes strung together to make a statement about life, or in this case, perhaps about youth. Michael Caine plays the lead, a great conductor named Fred Ballinger who is plagued by the fame of a work that sort of embarrasses him, struggling with late life apathy. When the Queen of England requests him to come conduct this work, Simple Songs, he refuses, though we don’t immediately learn why.
He’s staying at a Swiss spa for his annual meetup with an old friend, an aged, failing auteur, Mick Boyle (played by Harvey Keitel in the least aggressively sleazy role I can ever recall him in), who is there with a bunch of kid screenwriters working on his “testament”: The great film that will be his final, profound observations on life. Commiserating with Caine at the spa is a young Johnny Depp-ish actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, Love & Mercy, Prisoners), a serious actor whose greatest fame came from playing a robot.
So, there’s a kinship between Tree and Ballinger, and the movie is in part how they deal with this issue of being artists who are known for things they can no longer stand, for various reasons. (Hello, Ravel! Hello, Anthony Burgess! Hello, Loudon Wainwright! Etc.) Boyle, on the other hand, has come to the end of the life thinking everything he’s done is crap, and this is his chance to really make some art.
Ballinger’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) is there with him, and we learn (in a rather unpleasant way) that she is married to Boyle’s son. And we learn, in bits and pieces, how Boyle and Ballinger were neither particularly good fathers nor good men.
The story is advanced through directly expository or dramatic scenes, or occasional bits of whimsy which you might find pretentious. Hell, you might find the whole thing pretentious. These sorts of things work for you or they don’t, when at their best.
We felt the aesthetic sense of things, the character arcs did actually arc, and the acting is, of course, the best. (Rachel Weisz, always a fine actress, looks better than I can remember her ever looking, too.) Caine seems to be able to exploit his age without it consuming him, like it did Peter O’Toole in his final years. (Eastwood’s another one who seems to be able to pull this off.) Best role I’ve seen Keitel in ever. Relative youngster Dano holds his own with these heavyweights. Madalina Diana Ghenea has a Bo-Derek-In-10 kind of role as a naked Miss Universe that will probably land her a bunch more work.
So, yeah, we liked it a lot, even loved it, but would recommend only cautiously.