Youth is gorgeously shot, beautifully framed, but erratically storied. In many ways, it is the perfect imitation of the characteristics of youth, but unfortunately only a few of them are positive. Just like youth itself, the film is hard-headed and thinks it already possesses the wisdom that comes from decades of life experience. It uses borrowed language and worn-out platitudes to feign insight.
One of my favorite films of that year, Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 film La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty) reignited my love for classic Italian cinema by reminding the world the great beauty and personal/emotional depth that Italian cinema was known for. What Sorrentino attempted to do in Youth, he already accomplished in La Grande Belleza. He successfully wove an interesting, introspective journey with mesmerizing visuals, never compromising one aspect for the other. Youth inevitably feels old and dated, no matter how much it tries to convince you to the contrary. The alluring visual style proves to be nothing more than a distraction on their fairly surface-level story. The film wants you to believe that there is beauty in simplicity, and by the end of the film you believe it because of how basic the core story is. There is little new beyond the outward vanity. The story retreads the familiar coming-of-old-age themes, like coming to terms with mortality, dealing with past mistakes and regrets, and even coping with their changing sex life.
In an attempt to recreate the vigor of youth, the film plays as an avant-garde music video. Filled with a variety of performance art, most of which is musical, it is meant to background entertainment, but you can’t help but wish it was the focus. Several scattered musical performances, including one very spirited one from Paloma Faith, give this film the youthful energy of a concert. This is all a false front meant to detract attention from the fact that the story is trying to present tropes and claim they’re innovative.
Michael Caine’s somber, reflective performance is burdened by trite realizations that just end up coming off as self-gratifying. Even Harvey Keitel’s solid performance and Jane Fonda’s scene-stealing portrayal of an aging actress riddled with regret proves to be a great distraction as they try to also wax philosophical.
Like the benefits of youth, this film has an attractive and alluring superficial appeal. The symmetry, the imagery and, of course, the masterful musical elements all combine to create an engaging operatic performance. All the moving parts are truly captivating, but without any substance in the story, there is little that makes it worth while. The irony of Youth is that the ideas presented in them are older than the cast.
RATING: ★★★★★(5/10 stars)