By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — They’re relaxing at a luxurious spa resort in the Swiss Alps, wondering where their youth has gone.
And we’re scanning their weathered, worldly faces, buying them as their invented characters, appreciating the skilled banter, but at the same time recalling willy-nilly the many movies we’ve watched these two veteran performers in over the many years.
Youth co-stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel — the former a two-time Oscar winner (Hannah and her Sisters, The Cider House Rules), the latter an Oscar nominee (Bugsy) — have appeared in a couple hundred films between them.
In Youth, Caine plays famous retired composer and orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger, who feels he has earned the right to be apathetic, and thus has no interest in accepting any offers coming his way to pick up the baton again — even from Queen Elizabeth II herself.
Keitel is Mick Boyle, a celebrated movie director who is working on the script for his next picture, planning a comeback of sorts even though he knows full well that his best work is well behind him.
Both are creative and living artistic and intellectual lives, but not necessarily fully emotional ones.
Or, as Ballinger says at one point, “Emotions can be overrated.”
Each would be more than happy to avoid a backward glance and refrain from keeping score, as it were, but each has a woman in his life determined to make that impossible.
In Ballinger’s case, it’s his dutiful daughter, played by Oscar winner (The Constant Gardener) Rachel Weisz, who has just been dumped by her husband for a younger woman and who lashes out at her dad for the self-absorption that has kept him from fulfilling his family obligations.
In Boyle’s case, it’s his on-screen leading lady, a Hollywood movie star played by two-time Oscar winner (Coming Home, Klute) Jane Fonda, who has worked on nearly a dozen of Mick’s films, nearly all of which she considers awful, even though he feels that he made her career by featuring her so often.
Yep, the Oscar credentials in this cast positively spill over…
Anyway, Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino — whose 2013 drama, The Great Beauty, won last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – isn’t so much concerned with the plot, such that it is, as he is with these two characters and their various philosophical viewpoints.
This is Sorrentino’s second film in English (the other was the Sean Penn dramedy, This Must Be the Place), and while the dialogue is certainly listenable, especially against the striking visual backdrop, the meditative drama is almost as relaxed as the vacationing characters.
Caine is his reliably commanding self in the lead, Keitel and Weisz are serviceable, and Fonda delivers her big histrionic speech with over-the-top relish, as if flown in from another movie and given free rein.
This is a free-style movie that asks you not to concentrate and anticipate anything specific, but to spend a bit of casual time with these characters in this gorgeous setting and wait and see who else stops by and what else happens.
In other words, just give yourself over to the spa for a couple hours: don’t expect much of an emotional payoff, but don’t expect to regret the time you’ve spent here either.
So we’ll age 2½ stars out of 4 for a bittersweet dramedy that pleasantly meanders. The proverb notwithstanding, Youth is not wasted on the young.