Friday, December 25, 2015

Like its elderly characters, ‘Youth’ is slow-gaited but has rewarding moments

By Steve Crum
There is a whole lot of meditating and reflection aka deep thought going on in Youth, a dramedy that has already been heralded and crowned at Cannes. I cannot give the film that much praise, but there is a definite point of view expressed here, albeit a bit depressing. The search for life’s truth by both Youth’s elderly and youngish adults is rampant in this film, as its 124 minutes crawl along in search of answers. 
Youth is a handsomely photographed, well acted movie. It is also distant and uninvolving. The lack of emotion of the characters’ demeanor is perhaps best characterized by the sex play between a long-married couple, which occurs in the woods as Michael Caine’s Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel’s Mick Boyle hide behind a tree to observe.  Previous to the husband and wife’s woodsy display of lust, they were sullen and hardly said a word to each other. Perhaps that is Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s point. (He also wrote the screenplay.) By the time a married couple is way past retirement age, the passion becomes play acting, and the sexual act is mechanical with rehearsed sound effects. 
The problem with Sorrentino’s unwavering premise it that an audience watching his story has to endure a dozen or so such emotionless characters who seem to be searching for their lost passion of life, libido and otherwise.
For central character Fred, a successful composer-conductor, coping with his depression takes some unique turns—from hand conducting cattle through a chorus of mooing on a hillside to soaking in an indoor pool with his pal Mick as they ogle a 20-something, nude Miss Universe who has chosen to join them at the pool’s opposite side. 
Mick and Fred are vacationing at an upscale resort, which somewhat resembles the Grand Budapest, and located in the Swiss Alps. Clientele is mixed, but heavily seniors. So many elders are there, in fact, the resort keeps doctors and nurses on staff for regular health checkups. At times the resort appears to be an assisted living abode. A rather plain Jane prostitute sits in the lobby, on call for any older gent in need of her special aid. What a logical, original touch.
Early in the story, Fred is visited by an emissary of Queen Elizabeth who requests he conduct for her his beloved operatic composition, “Simple Songs,” but it is not to be. The real reason why he refuses is eventually disclosed, but it now appears Fred is bitter, antisocial, and solidly retired. His long time pal Mick, however, does want to perform again—and the sooner the better. He wants to direct a new film, and several writers have checked in at the resort to be a part. Two actors show up regarding the movie, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) and Brenda Morel, played by Jane Fonda in coarse, unflattering makeup. Fonda is pretty terrific as the outspoken actress. 
Rachel Weisz is very effective as Fred’s daughter, Lena, who is her father’s assistant. She is also married to Mick’s philandering son. 
Throughout Youth, the young adults essentially ask, “What is life?” as their elders wonder, “What was life?” “I’ve grown old without understanding how I got here,” Fred laments. By film’s conclusion, we and Fred better understand. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B-