“Did you have a piss today?” asked Michael Caine’s retired orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger to his life-long BFF Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Youth’s on-running gag, ‘cos you know, #oldpeopleproblems and all that… Paulo Sorrentino’s latest feature is the strangest buddy comedy you never thought you’d see.
In a swanky, celebrity-filled hotel, two life-long chums are spending some not-so-relaxing time trying to enjoy the beautiful Swiss Alps. Ballinger, refusing to come out of retirement and accept the Queen’s invitation to perform at Prince Phillip’s birthday, and Boyle, putting the finishing touches to his umpteenth screenplay, are, on paper, a rather odd match.
Pals for donkey’s years, Caine’s conductor – the pessimist with family issues (as displayed through his somewhat rocky relationship with PA/daughter, Rachel Weisz’s Lena Ballinger) – is in total contrast to the 80-something filmmaker: a lover of life, a reader of people, and so full of energy. Through the finely tuned looking glass which The Great Beauty helmer has pieced together, we delve into relationships and situations – father-daughter, director-film, actor-life – affecting these two men, and those around them (including Paul Dano dressed as Hitler…).
OK, the classification of this being a ‘buddy flick’ is somewhat simplistic; but at heart, this is an observational piece – littered with laughs (mostly at the expense of getting old – weeing, prostates, etc), an expected dosage of sentimentality (estranged wives, lost years…) and a rather sporadic off-the-wall nature – surrounding two old codgers, different in perspective and in nature, manoeuvring through their later life the only way (they think) they know how.
Long stares, balcony glazing and disturbing sexual encounters aside, Youth, to no great great surprise given Sorrentino’s back catalogue, is shiny, glitzy and a little weird. A Paloma Faith cameo and artistic dream sequences thrown amongst melancholic slow-motion and swooping musical led shots make this old age spectacle a pleasant, if slightly bemusing, treat for all the senses. It does, however, get a little muffled by its love of grand aesthetics, never quite gripping us with what is actually quite a standard, yet sweet, tale of love, loss and life. However, Caine and Keitel engage and amuse, while Jane Fonda is a one scene wonder as the Oscar winning diva actress who comes to tell her frequent collaborator (Boyle) that he’s well and truly passed it.
Stylish, abstract, with a flavouring of all our favourite old person’s jokes; Youth – a slower starter, but, eventually, with a lot to give – has plenty of life in its colourful bones.