Not since “The Grand Budapest Hotel’ has a film blended so smoothly the elements of fact and fantasy with a quirky and whimsical cast as “Youth.”
Director/writer Paolo Sorrentino is less concerned with creating a logical journey through the lives of a diverse group of patrons and more with showing the mystery and ambiguity that often changes life’s path. This is close to being a train-of-thought film, but it has just enough emotional gel to make it at least familiar to the viewer.
This is less of a linear look at two longtime friends (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel) enjoying a vacation in the Swiss Alps as it is a glimpse inside the creative mind. What we see is a world that spins – often completely out of control – from the mundane to the magical. It’s when these separate creative forces come smacking together that the movie is both at its most compelling and least interesting.
It starts with noted conductor Fred Ballinger (Caine), who is battling a deep depression that keeps him from returning to the stage. His daughter, Leda (Rachel Weisz), has so many daddy issues her own life is being stymied.
Mick Boyle (Paul Dano) is an actor whose ego has been mangled and his passion for the arts crushed under the superficial role he played in a movie that has become the only thing people remember.
Then there’s director Mick Boyle (Keitel), who has allowed his ego to blind him to how much he’s living on past successes. Only an emotional slap on the face by his oft used leading lady (Jane Fonda) awakens him to the truth.
Sorrentino is never in a rush to expose the truth that all of his players have forced deep bellow the surface. Some of the exposures are shockingly stark, as in the case of the source of the conductor’s grief. Others, such as the two sides of a beauty queen (Madalina Ghenea), are stronger because they exist within the confines of an average mind.
The duplicity takes the story from surreal moments to those buried in truth in a blink. This is all accomplished by a mixing and matching of characters. Each pairing results in a new truth and lie being shared.
The movie is loaded with strong performances, including a brief scene for Fonda. She shows that it’s not the time an actor has on screen but what they do with it that makes for award-worthy attention.
Sorrentino gets the best performance out of Dano in the young actor’s career. His transformation scene is as shocking as it is compelling. Dano shows he’s got as much acting skill as his veteran co-stars.
Most directors tend to guide the viewer through a standard set of steps that are made better by certain embellishments. Sorrentino offers up this look at life without a clear path. He trusts that the viewer will be able to go back and forth with the stories as they unfold to create a clear commentary on some serious topics.
It’s in that challenge that “Youth” shows an energy and virility that many movies fail to find. Couple that with a cast of actors who understand how to relate true emotions and the film is a true treasure.
Finding the way through the fact and fantasy is what demands attention and then never lets go.
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Rated R (nudity, sexuality, language)
Opens: Friday, Jan. 15