Film Review by Kam Williams
Caine and Keitel Co-Star as Aging BFFS in Surreal Meditation on Mortality
Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) has chosen to withdraw from the limelight after a storybook career as a celebrated composer and conductor. He’s presently being pampered with mud baths and massages at a scenic spa nestled in the Swiss Alps where he’s vacationing with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his his best friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel).
Despite being well into their 70s, Mick is working on the script for his next movie with the help of a quintet of young collaborators. For these purposes, it is good to know that Mick’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard) is married to Lena, who has just been dumped for a British pop singer (Paloma Faith herself).
While in the midst of dividing his days between reminiscing with his BFF and soothing his emotionally-distant daughter’s fragile psyche, Fred gets a surprising request to come out of retirement by an emissary (Alex Macqueen) of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II is offering knighthood in exchange for playing his most popular piece, “Simple Songs,” at Prince Philip’s impending birthday concert.
However, Fred summons up the strength to decline the command performance coming with an honorary title attached. For, he has already shed any attachment to his public persona in favor of meditating on his mortality and giving Lena the quality time she was denied as a child. After all, she still hasn’t forgiven him for focusing so selfishly on classical music during her formative years.
Thus unfolds Youth, a surreal mix of heartfelt introspection and escapist fantasy reminiscent of Federico Fellini. The movie was written and directed by Fellini’s fellow paisan, Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who is not shy about juxtaposing a variety of jarring images certain to leave a lasting impression, even if you’re not quite sure what to make of the visually captivating menagerie.
Caine and Keitel enjoy their best outings in ages, albeit in service of an inscrutable adventure that deliberately does its darndest to defy definition.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures