Paolo Sorrentino has made some impressive films during his career – and the Italian director shows no signs of slowing down. Last year's the Great Beauty won hims an Oscar for best foreign film, and now his prolificacy is marked by the arrival of Youth, second English language feature.
Starring Michael Caine as ageing composer Fred Ballinger, and Harvey Keitel as his close friend and film director Mick, Youth follows the pair to a luxurious resort in the Swiss Alps, where they reflect on their careers and failed relationships.
The performances are all highly polished, and the chemistry between Keitel and Caine is palpable, yet Sorrentino's film is not adequately propped up by a slick script: peppered with little witticisms that seem overly pleased with themselves, interactions meant to be dryly intelligent often come across as a little trite.
Jane Fonda's appearance is one of the film's best moments – she makes a brief appearance in a vitriolic exchange with Mick, as both come to realise that they have reached a stagnant period in their creativity.
Paul Dano is accomplished too as the affectedly cool film-star Jimmy Tree, who stands as a younger mirror to Ballinger's own insecurities; and Rachel Weisz is watchable as ever as Ballinger's exasperated daughter.
Yet peculiar directorial decisions leave Youth a little tonally odd. Sorrentino is clearly at comic timing, and the physical performances offer the best and driest moments in the film. One surreal moment sees Ballinger conducting a field of cowbells, as Mick observes the ghosts of all his leading ladies mechanically reciting their lines on the mountain. One running joke sees Fred and Mick hedging their bets on whether the couple at the next table will ever exchange a word; a quip that eventually builds to a hilariously grotesque crescendo.
Sentimentality mingles with moments of pure farce to often leave Youth's viewers rolling their eyes: Paloma Faith make a sloppy cameo which feels like an attempt at a cheap laugh. And, more often than not, it's difficult to sympathise with these figures of hedonism and privilege.
There's plenty to admire, not least in the shimmering cinematography, as beautifully shot, crisp alpine landscapes sit juxtapose with cameras dancing through clear blue water. But Sorrentino could certainly try harder: Youth's subject feels a little too close to home.
|Follow up to The Great Beauty: Youth film review "entertains, but lacks warmth"
|Cannes Film Festival | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
29 Jan 16 – 31 Mar 16, 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|£ determined by cinema
|Click here to go to the Youth IMDB page.