Youth Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Rated R. Opens Friday.
The main character of Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is a composer and conductor, a fitting occupation for a movie that’s constructed more like a symphony than a narrative. Italian writer-director Sorrentino is more interested in rhythm and meter than he is in telling a story, and like his previous film, 2013’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, Youth ebbs and flows rather than heading in any particular direction. There are a number of pleasures to be gained from this purely cinematic approach, but the cumulative effect of Youth is more enervating than illuminating.
Many of the individual frames of Youth—with their meticulous, often symmetrical composition—would be suitable for museum display, but it’s often hard to see how one connects to the next. The performances offer a bit more cohesiveness, led by Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger, an aging icon of English classical music vacationing at a resort in the Swiss Alps, along with his longtime friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). Caine and Keitel bring a relaxed chemistry to their roles as old friends with mixed feelings about being in their twilight years, and both Paul Dano and Jane Fonda give memorable (if sometimes baffling) supporting performances.
Sorrentino makes some oblique commentary about aging and living with regret, but the narrative themes are offset by scenes that feel like non sequiturs (at one point the movie literally stops for several minutes to show a Paloma Faith music video). Sorrentino’s symphony of imagery eventually builds to so many crescendos that it leaves the audience as worn out as the melancholy protagonist.