“Paolo Sorrentino’s visual prowess is almost always let down by his scriptwriting,” begins Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage. “That’s why his only feature based on a real-life story, Il Divo (winner of the 2008 Jury Prize), is also his best to date. With the narrative anchored by the extraordinary biography of infamous Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, Sorrentino was able to indulge in his stylistic extravagance with legitimacy, pulling off a political biopic both trenchant and thoroughly engaging. Such legitimacy is precisely what is lacking in Youth. While Youth may not be his worst film (that honor still firmly belongs to his previous foray into English-language filmmaking, This Must Be the Place), it is his most pretentious and bombastic.”
“Sorrentino’s new movie set in a Swiss sanatorium is a diverting, minor work, tweaked up with funny ideas and images and visually as stylish as ever,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “There are brilliant flourishes here that could only have come from Sorrentino: superb swooping camera moves, grotesque faces and angular perspectives, and it always watchable. But it’s beset with Sorrentino’s occasional fanboy weakness for pop-star cameos—Paloma Faith appears here, playing herself and not earning her keep. Youth has a wan eloquence and elegance, though freighted with sentimentality and a strangely unearned and uninteresting macho-geriatric regret for lost time, lost film projects, lost love and all those beautiful women that you never got to sleep with.”
Time Out’s Dave Calhoun sets it up for us:
Fred (Michael Caine) is a retired composer and conductor who scoffs at an invitation from the Queen via an equerry (Alex Macqueen) to perform a musical piece one last time (Sorrentino forgetting that royals prefer horses to Holst). Meanwhile, his fellow guest and friend Mick (Harvey Keitel) is a film director holed up in a hotel room with younger colleagues trying to complete a script—that’s until Jane Fonda turns up to deliver a monstrous, unendearing turn as an actress whose truth-telling sucks the last bit of hope out of Mick’s ambition.
Elsewhere, Rachel Weisz is grappling with a raft of emotional issues as Fred’s daughter and the wife of Mick’s arrogant son, while Paul Dano is a young actor unhappy with his reputation for playing a robot in the movies… The more the film leans towards commenting on moviemaking itself, though, the least successful it is: the scriptwriting scenes with Keitel are wince-inducing.
“With his thick-framed glasses and swept-back mane of yellow-grey hair, Caine has been styled as a virtual doppelgänger of Toni Servillo, who played The Great Beauty’s elderly socialite Jep Gambardella, and is Sorrentino’s regular leading man,” notes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “The style suits him well. Jep, after all, was a reimagining of Marcello Mastroianni’s character from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, whose impossible suavity was a major influence on Caine’s own horn-rimmed, snugly tailored Sixties look…. But for all this elegant fun, the film never grasps its central theme with the same clarity or courage as The Great Beauty—or, for that matter, Sorrentino’s superb 2004 film The Consequences of Love, with which Youth shares a significant amount of its DNA.”
“The director teams again with Great Beauty DP Luca Bigazzi, and Youth mostly looks great,” grants the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang, “occasionally even breathtaking, with the hotel providing the kind of lush surroundings and clean lines that Sorrentino loves to compose, with special mention for the early dream sequence set in a flooded St Mark’s Square at night.” That said, Youth is “a film so arch it’s nearly triumphal, but so hollow it crumbles to dust at the slightest tap.”
“Musings are scattered lightly across a serenely tempoed series of vignettes, where they can be examined for profundity or dismissed as trite,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman at Little White Lies. “When all the whimsical tangents have finished running riot, a lifeforce that is as gentle as a masseuse’s fingertips continues to press.”
Caine and Keitel “enrich each scene with a higher calling,” finds Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “Ironically for a movie about men who miss the joy of creative triumph, Youth gives both veteran actors their best material in years.”
“Sorrentino, with Youth, delivers his most tender film to date, an emotionally rich contemplation of life’s wisdom gained, lost and remembered—with cynicism harping from the sidelines, but as a wearied chord rather than a major motif,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy calls Youth “a voluptuary’s feast, a full-body immersion in the sensory pleasures of the cinema.” Screen‘s Lee Marshall: “Sorrentino reaches new heights of showy, utterly tasteful magnificence.”
Updates, 5/22: “It’s not a great movie,” grants Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve, “but Sorrentino’s style of beauty can’t be captured in stills; it’s rooted entirely in editing, in the musical flow of images as they cascade across the screen…. Sorrentino’s films are intensely rhythmic, and this one keeps the tempo light and airy for over an hour before it finally starts straining for effect.”
“Youth doesn’t even have striking images to impress with, its palette of visual ideas tipping its hat variously at Condé Nast Traveler, the sort of fashion photography that thinks naked old people are edgy, and the high-budget pop video,” writes James Lattimer at the House Next Door. “The mood is three parts whimsy, two parts self-congratulation, and one part melancholy, with this being the sort of film where Caine directing an orchestra of cowbells, two geriatric mobility machines bumping into another, and a naked Miss Universe getting into a Jacuzzi with our two geriatric heroes are all supposed to provoke belly laughs, wonder, or both.”
“Sorrentino is a great director,” argues Grantland‘s Wesley Morris, “one who not only knows how to compose an amazing shot but also has the wit and imagination to seduce you into believing you’ve never seen anything like it. In movie after movie, he commits that seduction, each time coming up with a better way to make visual music. With most filmmakers, a Fellini reference is a cue to shake your head in embarrassment. But with Sorrentino, Fellini is a road map and a rechargeable battery.”
Aaron Hillis for Filmmaker: “Sorrentino has always been stronger as an aestheticist than as a writer, and what makes Youth watchable despite its lackluster ideas is its occasionally voluptuous embellishments, such as Fred imagining he’s conducting a symphony of cows in a field, or an obese footballer with a Karl Marx tattoo keeping a tennis ball in the air with his feet and gut.”
“As fond as I am of the film,” writes Michał Oleszczyk at RogerEbert.com, ” it’s an uneven work, which requires attuning oneself to its quirky rhythms and not minding an occasional misstep.”
“This flawed, lovely, odd film both displeases and delights,” agrees Tara Brady in the Irish Times.
“This is one of Caine’s better performances in recent years: confident, sharp, reflective, modestly commanding,” finds Tim Grierson at Paste.
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Camillo De Marco (Cineuropa), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix), Alex Ramon (PopMatters), Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com) and Anne Thompson. Interviews with Sorrentino: Camillo De Marco (Cineuropa) and Nigel M. Smith (Indiewire).
Update, 5/23: “Unless slow-mo shots of sagging hotel guests set to classical music and broad jokes about Hollywood are your idea of great cinema, there isn’t a whole lot to see here aside from Dano’s interesting performance and a few good gags, the best of them being the delayed reveal of the role Dano’s character has been preparing to play,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. “Highly artificial stuff like this tends to attract the o-word, operatic, but what it resembles most is an orchestra of bugles and ratchet noisemakers conducted like the Portsmouth Sinfonia.”