By Bob Bloom
“Youth” is a leisurely character study, a movie that requires patience, as it looks at two longtime friends during their annual vacation at a resort in the Swiss Alps.
The movie, which stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, is a respite from the hurly-burly of such dynamic releases as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “The Hateful Eight” and “The Big Short.”
Caine portrays Fred Ballinger, a famed British composer and conductor, who has retired. Keitel is Mick Boyle, a veteran filmmaker, working on the screenplay for what he sees as his last important project.
Over a period of weeks, the two discuss life, love, art, loss, regret and aging.
Fred is visited by a representative of the Queen of England who wants him to conduct his most famous work at a birthday gala for her husband.
Fred politely refuses, telling the envoy that his reasons are personal.
Mick, meanwhile, with a posse of young assistants, is struggling with his script.
The men spend most of their time relaxing in the pool, taking walks and dining, as they look back on their lives and realize that some of their most profound experiences have come in their later years.
Also at the resort is Paul Dano as Jimmy Tree, a young actor preparing for an upcoming film role, who enjoys swapping observations about life, art and the other guests with the older men.
“Youth,” written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, has no plot to speak of. It simply eavesdrops on a couple of old men exchanging views on various subjects.
Yet, Caine and Keitel hold your attention because they are such consummate actors that during some exchanges you really don’t listen to what they say as much as how they put their words across.
The movie consecrates memory and how, as we age, we bend and twist the past to fit our needs.
On occasion, the movie slips into pretention as Fred and Mick alternately bemoan and celebrate the aging process.
The cast also includes Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter, Leda, who is staying with him. Their relationship is volatile as the pair Ping-Pong from battling to embracing.
The cast also includes Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, Mick’s longtime leading lady, who stops by the resort to tell him that she is dropping out of the project because his story is no good.
“Youth” is a quiet movie — often too quiet — and you need to concentrate to catch the nuances, as Fred and Mick needle each other, compare bathroom habits and make simple small talk.
“Youth” offers many comic moments, interspersed with some drama and even tragedy. It’s not so much a movie as a philosophical dissertation captured on film. Many of Sorrentino’s observations are well-worn and obvious, but listening to Caine and Keitel deliver them — often in profane terms — makes “Youth” a pleasant excursion.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ stars out of 4
(R), nudity, sexual content, language, mature themes