Youth is about the world renowned, but retired, composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a director who's currently working on his masterpiece as they take a vacation at a luxury resort. While there, Fred, in particular, takes a liking to a perceptive and talented young actor called Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) who's there preparing for his next role, and what a role! You'll know what I mean if you ever see it for yourself. Fred and Mick come across a weird assortment of characters during their stay, but they mostly observe from a distance while talking and reminiscing between themselves. Fred has developed severe apathy, or so he's told repeatedly throughout the movie, and when an emissary from the Queen requests him to perform for Prince Phillip's birthday, Fred flat-out refuses.
Fred is accompanied by his daughter Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) to the resort, who's become his personal assistant. Initially Lena wasn't going to stay at the resort with her father, but after she was unceremoniously dumped by her husband at the airport when they were going to embark on their own vacation, she goes back to stay with her father. Fred and Mick are childhood friends for well over sixty years now, and on top of that, Lena was married to Mick's son. Talk about keeping it all in the family. Not literally of course, just metaphorically.
I didn't know that this was a Paulo Sorrentino movie going in, but it immediately struck me as being one of his, especially considering I only watched The Great Beauty a little while ago. The similar plots, the vivid colors, the beautiful cinematography, the surreal atmosphere, the emotionally charged moments, the deeply reflective characters. It had Paulo all over it. Youth is about these two childhood friends, one has seemingly given up on life (Fred), while the other is still actively working (Mick). There's a nice emotional moment after Lena is dumped by her husband, and in her desperation and frustration she berates Fred for never being there for her or for his wife, Melanie. Afterwards when Lena is present when the emissary to the Queen is again asking Fred to compose for the Queen. Fred emphatically explains to the emissary that he wrote that music only for his wife and that no other woman will ever sing her songs as long as he's alive. Lena realizes how deeply Fred loved Melanie, despite only being able to express his love for her through his music.
The scene itself is one shot and it's framed superbly as we see Fred explaining this to the emissary, and Lena is in the background as she begins to cry and breakdown, silently. Because it finally dawns on her how private and intimate her parent's love was, his music is his testament to his wife, and only his wife. The double entendre is quite a touching one too. For a man who's been so emotionally distant his whole life, it's his first time opening up to his daughter. Even though Fred is looking directly at the emissary as he's explaining his reasons for not composing. If you listen to the delivery of his dialogue, it's clear that Fred's emphasizing certain points for his daughter. Who he knows for a fact has been listening to their conversation, and after he's bared his soul, he doesn't even need to look at his daughter to know that she's in tears, tears of happiness after she had berated him so viciously about not caring for his wife and her mother. The synchronization alone between Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz in that scene alone is fantastic acting.
Youth spends the second half largely focusing on Mick, the director who's intently working away on his masterpiece when his main actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), a woman he considers his friend, pulls out of his movie to save himself the embarrassment. Mick is devastated because he knows that without Brenda, he has no movie. I thought the finale between Brenda and Mick was absolutely heartbreaking though. Youth is about ageing, obviously, but it's about letting go, talent eventually fades, new generations come in and take over as they sit around reminiscing on a life full of regrets, wanting more time and knowing when to let go and knowing when to stand up. Certainly not a movie for everyone, but I did like it. The trailer gives off the impression that it's a bit of a comedy, it's not, it's a pretty heavy movie. There was the occasionally funny moment to be fair, but not nearly as much as the trailer leads on there will be.
Written by - The Sentry - 27/11/2015